2017 “Chillin’ with Animals” Calendar – January Story

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Ena on one of her first explorations of her new exhibit

First things first: Happy New Year! You made it! What an incredibly difficult 12 months for most of us. Well done! Now on to the regularly scheduled post….

Last year I began a new project: creating a blog post each month that would tell the story behind the photo appearing in my 2016 calendar for that month. My goal was to have the piece uploaded and published in time to be viewed concurrent with the turning of the calendar page; for those of you who played along at home this past year, you will likely recall that was an infrequent accomplishment at best. Naturally I reacted to this problem the way any rational person would: I made it twice as difficult to accomplish my goals in 2017 by offering two different calendars. I guess we’ll all just have to see how well this works out over the next 12 months. In the meantime, here is the very first of those posts, brought to you in time for the New Year. The above photo – which accompanies the January page of my “Chillin’ with Animals” calendar for 2017 – is of Ena, a young female snow leopard whom you may encounter along the Eurasia Wilds walk at the Zoo.

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Tiga basking in the sun

The cover for the 2016 calendar featured this beautiful older lady, Tiga, who sadly passed away during the year at the advanced age of 17. She had been a resident of the Toronto Zoo for more than a decade and had produced four cubs during that time; her passing was a difficult time for the keepers of that area. There is a great hope that Ena – a gorgeous five-year-old who came here from Tama Zoo in Japan – will successfully take over the breeding program with the loss of Tiga. I was very excited to see her on one of her first times on exhibit in March of 2016 and was exceptionally lucky to capture the photo you see at the top of this page. Ena has proven to be one of the more difficult subjects for me to photograph at the Zoo, but it’s for a reason that might seem counter-intuitive: she likes to get a little too close to me in her wanderings, which makes it very difficult to make the fencing “disappear” in the process. Sometimes she has been curled up about two armslengths away which….yeah, yeah, I know: tough problem to have, right? Nevertheless, the very best images I can capture of these stunning animals happen when they are virtually dead-centre in their enclosure.

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Ena snoozing right under my nose!

However, it’s not exactly a tragedy when they hang out exceptionally close to me. Here is a very recent photo of Ena who was so close to the fence that the three of us who were looking for her that day almost walked away from the exhibit without ever spotting her. Plenty of fence and wire on display in this picture, but I hope it gives you some small conception of how thrilling it truly is to be in such close proximity to a creature of this beauty and grace. Ena was happily snoozing away, easily within a dozen feet of where I was standing transfixed by the sight of her. Any slight disappointment I might have felt at not being able to capture a brilliant image of this big cat was washed completely away the moment I heard her softly sigh – as would my own house cat, Addie – as she made herself a little more comfortable. A truly soul-enriching experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the chance. In fact, I recommend the entire Eurasia Wilds walkthrough just in general as it is rarely as well-attended as the rest of the Zoo tends to be and, even when it might seem to be heavily populated with visitors, there are myriad little corners and nooks where one may stand relatively undisturbed by humanity while observing some of the cutest and/or gentlest creatures in the whole Zoo – from the lesser pandas to the west Caucasian turs, my personal favourites. And in case you don’t truly believe me, keep an eye on the rest of the photos in the 2017 calendar. Eurasia has more than its fair share, that’s for sure!

Next month features a shot so wonderful that it actually knocked some penguins completely out of the calendar. Shocking! In the meantime, I will leave you with a few more photos of our gorgeous snow leopards. Enjoy!

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Ena: the bird’s eye view

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The sorely missed Tiga, nestling by her favourite window

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Another angle – an extremely rare shot – of Tiga by her window

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