Thursday, July 4, 2013

7/4/13 Misha

Got to the Zoo twenty minutes before opening and they were letting members in, so I trucked over to the Big Cats exhibit to see if I could get a lucky peek at 6 week old Misha, the snow leopard born on May 13 and just, finally, unveiled to the public today. Over the past week, they've been slowly taking down bits of the covering on the glass, watching mama Natasha's reaction to make sure she wasn't too stressed. They posted yesterday that this would be the first real chance to see the pair and knowing how quickly Misha would grow, I wanted to get a few pictures of her as small as possible. 

8:45 a.m. There was one other photographer there when I arrived. He said he'd swung by last night at the announcement and they'd been fairly active, although Natasha was mostly keeping the two of them as out of sight as possible. He left soon after, as she'd curled up in the cave, almost out of sight and showed no signs of moving. She kept shooting me her death stare and then laying her head back down while Misha nursed. I curled into the little nook of rock where I could watch. I was alone and able to be as patient as it took, or at least test how patient I could actually be. 

By 9:15 Natasha had flipped over, so only her tail and hindquarters were visible, except for this moment when Misha peeked up. And this was one moment out of the next two hours. A zoo helper had arrived around 9:30 and was keeping little kids from climbing on the rocks in front of the display and asking people to keep their voices down which, for the most part, everyone did. Most people glanced around, didn't see anything, and kept moving. The ones who'd come specifically because of the news would look around a bit more and then see me sitting off to the side and come look from that (only) vantage point at a blob of fur and ask if I'd seen the baby. 

The helper kept saying this was her first baby and it was taking everything I had not to correct him. It's her daddy's first cub. Natasha is an old (age 12) pro, having three cubs prior to Misha. He was also saying rather alarming things like big cats could get stressed and kill their young if conditions (like noise) were too much for them. I tried to verify this when I got home, since it was the first time I'd heard anything like it concerning babies bred in captivity. I'd heard about mothers rejecting their young and needing to be bottle-fed for various reasons, but not this. Turns out, I can't find any verifiable source that it's ever happened in any feline species in any zoo. 

I did actually have a woman ask me when they were scheduled to get up and come out. I bit my tongue on that one.

At 11:00 there was a tiny bit of activity, with Natasha moving around and Misha visible for another second, but neither showed any inclination to get out of the cave. I decided that snap might be it for the day, but at least I'd gotten to see the two of them. 

So, I headed out once they flopped back down in the dark again, hoping to find a few other cats to photograph.

I always come for the cats.

Then I hit up Predator Ridge, the Lion habitat.

From previous visits, I knew the bachelor brother lions, Rajah and Rian, who've been one another's only companions since birth fifteen years ago. My favorite shot of the two of them was taken in February of 2012, when it was slightly cooler:

Rian is on the left. Rian died a few weeks ago, after a failed attempt at chemotherapy to reduce the  ravages of cancer on his spleen. 

Today, Rajah just paces the back wall, from the viewing glass and back to the door, over and over. There is no brother to lay or nuzzle with. I spoke with one of the zoo handlers who said he's just lost. 

The Clouded Leopard was just hanging out.

And I happened across the end of the elephant session, as Bodhi, the 9 year old baby elephant, was gleefully playing in the pressure hose. After being so still and quiet in the dark watching for a baby leopard and then being so sad watching Rajah, this was a welcome moment of joy.

 Up and out:

And back to the hose!

He turned around and backed himself to enjoy a little Bodhi biday action

As soon as they flipped that hose off, he knew he was done and wandered back to his area for lunch.

I wandered back around to the cats, thinking I'd check on the sleeping tigers and that baby one last time...

Still sleeping...

The Amur Leopards, however, were pouncing. With less than 40 of these beauties left surviving in the wild, in a tiny pocket of Russia, they are the most endangered of the cats.

As I walked back in, the same helper was there, shooing kids off the rocks, talking about Natasha as a first time mom, etc. But I saw that there must have been some activity in the hour I'd been wandering, because the glass was smeared and there was a busted open wicker basket at the front of the exhibit. He spots me and says, "Oh! You missed all the action!" I tried not to let my eye twitch. But as it turns out, it wasn't the action I was looking for. A handler had left Natasha a frozen treat that she'd emerged to eat, but she'd shooed Misha back into the cave and didn't let her come out. 

So I decided to give it twenty more minutes before leaving, just to see. Mom was already back in the cave, bathing herself and Misha was nursing away. They'd either curl up and nap next, or  . . . 


Mom? Are you coming?

Delusions of grandeur commence

My absolute favorite of the bunch.

 Okay, kid, back into the cave. Aw mom...


But Misha wasn't done. Natasha flopped back down, but Misha went into the other room and mom decided not to follow. She crawled up on the log and explored for a few minutes. 

And, with a final tiny little roar, she crawled back into the cave without having to be pulled, curled up, and went to sleep.  All in all, completely worth the wait!


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