Photo of the Day #17: Zeff out in the cold


While I love to visit the zoo on warm summer days, I usually don't come home with many good pictures, and the reason why can be summed up in one word: Strollers. Anyone who's visited a museum, zoo, or other such institution with me knows that the never-ending sea of strollers is pretty high on my list of pet peeves, and on at least one occasion the shuffling mob gave me a migraine and sent me off home. There is an easy way to avoid this, however; visit in the wintertime. The above photo is of Zeff, a 14-year-old female Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), taken right around 10 AM on a cold February morning last year. As you can tell by Zeff's breath in the picture, it was quite chilly indeed, about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but I had the "Tiger Mountain" exhibit all to myself and shot some halfway decent photographs. Even better was the fact that Zeff was communicating to another tiger in an adjacent enclosure, the condensation from her breath clearly visible as Zeff called to the other cat (it's a sort of low-pitched "awwrrrroo" sound). In any case, some of my best experiences at zoos occur between December and February (which is when I haven taken some of my most favorite photographs), and even though I'm no fan of the cold, it's worth venturing out into it if I can almost have the zoo all to myself.

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Oh you opened a can of worms with the strollers comment - I absolutely loathe them! Especially now they've become less what I used to be carted around in (pretty much a glorified lightweight deck-chair on wheels with a bag hanging off the back) and more a mini three-wheeled RV.

Apart from anything, when one's sprog is young enough to be pushed around in a stroller, are they really old enough to appreciate a zoo/museum/botanical garden? If not, then why on earth can't the (usually) women push them faster?

I also object to parents encouraging their sticky and snotty progeny to barge past so they can be first to play with the exhibits even if I'm already trying to stick my hand in the box (or whatever the exhibit is). I pay more for my museum entrance and don't see why I should give up a good spot to view a plant/animal/fossil for someone else's child. Worst of all, it teaches the children to be rude and not consider others.

Best time to go to a museum is about half an hour before it closes in the middle of the winter. It's dark outside, and hardly anyone wants to be in a museum. At about 5pm in the dinosaur gallery at the NHM it's so quiet that the mice come out and run around.

And that's a really lovely photo of the tiger. You should start entering photography competitions.

Sometimes zoos, museums, the symphony, and other educational/cultural institutions will have special events during off-peak times, days, and seasons. In my home city (in Canada, so it actually gets cold), there were winter zoo events, and at the nature museum, there was a weekday thing, lunch in the planetarium.

Crowds are no fun. And who wants to be at the zoo on a hot summer day anyway? I'd easily take the fall or winter.

Waterdog; Indeed, weekdays during the winter are usually the best times to visit, although I once was unpleasantly surprised by the biggest crowds I had ever encountered at the AMNH last February. Apparently the film Night at the Museum caused an attendance spike, and I had to be physically assisted off the premises, muttering something about strollers (well, it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't very much fun).

Julia; Indeed, when even the world "stroller" is mentioned I have something of a reflex reaction and yell "I hate them so much!" The worst circumstances occur when the progeny don't want to be in the stroller but the hulking thing isn't folded up and pushed around anyhow. I don't generally mind if kids want to get up close to a fossil/animal/exhibit because they're really curious, but I absolutely can't stand it when parents use their children to sneak up and take the whole damn window. Even though the circumstances were different and the show was over, this occurred quite frequently after the Walking With Dinosaurs show I saw, families forming human chains being led by small children, all of them bumping on past and not allowing me to get anywhere. I try and remember that I was a little ankle-biter once too, but I don't think that I was as rude.

One last point about kids; it is best not to bring a screaming child who is too young to appreciate Tyrannosaurus into the hard-walled dinosaur halls at the AMNH. I'm surprised some of the skeletons have not fallen down given some of the octaves I've heard some awfully young children reach, many parents usually shrugging and saying "What can you do?"

In any event, I don't want to seem elitist and some of these kids might be future paleontologists/zoologists, but given a choice I'll try and avoid the masses. Like you said, some of the best times I've had at museums has been late in the afternoon near closing, especially those five minutes or so when it's getting dark out but they haven't turned on the indoor lights all the way up, the skeletons seeming all the more striking in the mix of shadows and orange light. This reminds me especially of one picture I took last year and I will share it tomorrow.

Thank you for the compliment about the photo, too! I've entered a few photos into the National Geographic Your Shot competition but haven't been selected as yet. I'm afraid I lack a lot of training in composition and other such things I should probably know about, my general ignorance of photography keeping my involvement level low.

I could never really tolerate crowds at the zoo, particularly when you have screaming, running kids shouting and pointing at the animals, which thankfully do look quite used to all the excessive attention. Families quietly strolling along with a little tot in a pram, I can stand, but definitely not the obnoxious ones who treat the stroller more as a bumper car. Worse though are those who ignore warnings not to knock on the glass, and try to stir up the snakes and other reptiles.

That aside, this is a lovely picture. I really like how your photos don't betray the fact that these are captives, and I can almost imagine this photo having been taken on a frosty Manchurian morning.

P.S. Have you read about the recent research which argues that the extant mainland Asian tiger populations are probably not separate subspecies, but merely display clinal variation in response to the environment, availability of prey and presence of competitors, and such? Some have argued that only the Caspian tigers and those on the Indonesian islands were likely to have been sufficiently isolated to evolve into distinct taxa. One paper even considered the Sumatran and the extinct Javan and Bali tigers to have been sufficiently isolated to represent distinct species, Panthera sumatrae for the Sumatran, and two subspecies of P. sondaica for the latter two extinct forms.

The implications of this for tiger conservation are tremendous.

I've always been told I have a good eye for composition of a photo - my mother and grandmother are/were excellent photographers, and they always enjoy(ed) looking at my holiday snaps (I'm also one of those annoying people who can hang pictures by sight). But I always suffer from having lousy subject matter. I don't know why it is, but I just do not have the right-place-at-the-right-time skills. Same with fossils - combing beaches for loose specimens in Dorset, my igneous petrologist friend would have found so many that he'd chucked half of them back before keeping the best, while I'd never find one.

As for strollers, I'm going on the basis that if I can hike 12 miles a day with a 16kg backpack, then I can lug the spawn around in a similar contraption until they're old enough to use their own two feet. I faithfully promise not to be a shuffling stroller-pusher when my time comes.

Hai; I had heard about some research to that point, although I'm not familiar with it. I'll have to look at the issue more closely, but like you said it could have important implications for tiger conservation.

Thanks for the compliments, too. An Amur tiger on a cold winter morning really is a sight to behold. I didn't think this shot came out that well, but I'm glad you all like it. Glass enclosures and a shallow depth of field allow me to get shots that I couldn't get otherwise, although marks on the glass (like when Zeff projectile pissed right at where I was standing) can be difficult.