WILDlife Photography Features is designed to spotlight a particular species each issue. From bears to canines to fish and birds, my goal is to leave no animal behind. Each and every one of them is special in their own way, as are the talented photographers that captured each picture. It's also my hope that by bringing these pictures to light, it will inspire you to help conserve and protect many of these species and ensure that they all have a prosperous future.
And so without further ado, it is my great pleasure to bring you the first issue of WILDlife Photography Features, starring my favorite group of animals: the Big Cats!
Lions - Panthera leo
Lions, the king of beasts and my favorite animal. They are quite possibly the most recognized and loved animal of them all, and these photographs do a wonderful job at capturing their finest features.
The white lions you see are not really a separate breed of lion, or even albinos, at all, but the result of a recessive gene known as a color inhibitor. This gene causes their fur to be a light cream color, rather than the typical tan coloration.
Tigers - Panthera tigris
The largest cats in the world, there are actually many subspecies of tiger. The smallest subspecies, the Sumatran tiger, is also critically endangered, with the wild population at just roughly 400 to 500 animals. The other subspecies, such as the Bengal and Siberian, are also listed as endangered species. It would be a sad day indeed to lose them, and something must be done to save these beautiful cats, before they are gone from our planet forever.
Like white lions, white tigers are not a separate species of tiger but the result of a color inhibiting gene. Their eyes are an ice blue color, and their stripes are usually a dark brown to chocolate
Jaguars - Panthera onca
Jaguars are the largest cats after the lion and tiger. Their range extends from Mexico across much of Central America, with the rainforest as its preferred habitat. Sadly, their numbers are declining due to habitat destruction and hunting, listed as near threatened.
Leopards - Panthera pardus
Similar in appearance to the jaguar, the leopard resides chiefly in sub-saharan Africa. They are opportunistic hunters and will eat anything they can find, from beetles to monkeys and deer. One subspecies, the Amur leopard, is a critically endangered species, with merely 27-32 individuals remaining in the wild. However, there is still hope for this species. The Whooping Crane population was once at only 52 birds remaining, but their numbers are increasing due to conservation efforts.
There is an easy way to tell the leopard apart from the jaguar: leopards lack rosettes (ring-like spots) on their fur.
Clouded Leopard - Neofelis nebulosa
A Clouded Leopard's coat is covered in large, dark-edged spots which resemble clouds, and it has the longest teeth proportional to its body size of any cat species. Its habitat in the dense jungles of Asian countries (along with the fact that it is nocturnal) makes it difficult to study, so reliable estimates of its population do not exist. Hunting for use in Chinese medicine and habitat loss are major threats to these creatures.
Snow Leopards - Uncia uncia
Snow Leopards are, I believe, one of the most beautiful animals to walk the earth, and are my second favorite animal next to the mighty lion. They have thick white to gray fur, espescially on their tails, which they often use as a blanket to cover their faces with when sleeping in the cold winter months. They too, like so many others of the big cats, are an endangered species.
Bobcats - Lynx rufus
Bobcats are among the smaller of the big cat species. They live in wooded areas from southern Canada to northern Mexico, as well as across the United States. They can also be found in Native American mythology, as well as stories of European settlers.
Lynx - Felis lynx
Contrary to popular belief, the bobcat and the lynx are not the same species. The lynx can be easily identified by its shorter tail, tufts of black hair on the ear tips, and a ruff of fur under its chin that resembles a bow tie! They are solitary, although small groups have been observed hunting together, and inhabit high altitude forests.
Ocelots - Leopardis pardalis
Also known as the Painted Leopard, ocelots are small wildcats that live in South and Central America, and have even been reported as far as Texas. It was once mass hunted for its fur, but its numbers have thankfully gone up over time as the hunting was stopped. They have a single white spot on the back of each ear, as well as a black banded tail.
Servals - Leptailurus serval
A medium sized African wildcat, the serval is closely related to the Caracal, which also inhabits Africa. They can be recognized by their long legs, fairly short tail, and tall rounded ears which aid its excellent hearing. It is able to climb and swim, but seldom does so, and it has dwindled in numbers due to human populations overtaking its habitat and being hunted for its spotted fur.
Caracals - Caracal caracal
Caracals are fiercely territorial and take their name from their black ears. The word "caracal" comes from the turkish word "karakulak", which means "black ears". Its large ears are controlled by 20 different muscles to aid in hearing prey. It is one of the fastest and heaviest of all the small wild cats. They are rarely seen in the wild due to their ability to hide so well in their native habitat in sub-saharan Africa.
Cougar - Puma concolor
Call it what you like: cougar, puma, mountain lion, or panther, they're really all the same species! This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Canada to South America. It is the fourth heaviest cat in the world, known for hunting elk, deer, and bighorn sheep using a stalk-and-ambush method of hunting. It is a reclusive cat and avoids contact with humans; attacks by cougars are actually rare. They are frequently referred to in Native American mythology, in which it is known by dozens of names.
Come on...you know you want to show off your big cat love by putting some of these in your journals!
How To Get Involved
Do you love big cats and want to help ensure that they grace our planet for future generations to come? To get involved and take a stand on protecting these beautiful creatures, please check out some of these links.
-worldwildlife.org - Adopt a big cat from the most well known conservation organization in the world, such as an endangered tiger, snow leopard, or amur leopard, and even get a plushie of your adopted animal as a reminder of your contribution to conserving these species.
-awf.org - Visit the African Wildlife Foundation to adopt an african lion or jaguar, or even adopt an African Acre to ensure that these cats will always have habitats in which to roam free.
-bigcatrescue.org - A big cat sanctuary dedicated to saving these animals from abuse. Their mission statement is: "To provide the best home we can for the animals in our care and to reduce the number of cats that suffer the fate of abuse, abandonment or extinction by teaching people about the plight of the cats, both in the wild and in captivity, and how they can help through their behavior and support of better laws to protect the cats." Make a donation to help them in their goal!
-snowleopard.org - The Snow Leopard Trust - one of the only organizations in the world dedicated to saving the endangered snow leopard.
-bigcat.org - Another exotic cat sanctuary trying to help big cats in need. Sign up for their newsletter and receive lots of educational information, all about the big cats.
-savethetigerfund.org - Visit the Save The Tiger Fund and find out just how you can help efforts to save the extremely endangered tiger.
I really hope you enjoyed this issue, and all the beautiful photographs of some of the most fascinating creatures on our planet. Keep watch for next month's issue, featuring the most diverse and colorful animals of all: Birds!