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June 2012 "Best Way Down"
Leopard, Panthera pardus, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Like all cats, the inward-curving retractable claws of the leopard work great for climbing, but when climbing back down, not so well. For some reason, most don't like to descend tail first, so leopards have developed the technique of a sort of sideways descent, until gravity takes over and they are forced to jump the rest of the way to the ground.

Canon 5D Mark II camera, EF 100-400 f4.5 lens at 400mm, exposure of 1/400 at f8, ISO 160, handheld with Image Stabilization.

May 2012 "Highway Hazards"
Barren Ground Caribou, Rangifer tarandus granti, Alaska

In Alaska, everything is bigger, even the traffic hazards. Most Alaskan drivers must contend with moose on the highways, but locally (and areas adjacent to the Alaska Range Mountains) we must also watch for caribou on the roadways. All winter they have been roaming the neighborhood--some eating lichens only 30 feet from my house--and I'm frequently awoken in the middle of the night by loud air horns as the truckers try to scare caribou off the highway. Considering all the ungulates on the local highways, it is amazing that only about a half dozen have been killed locally this past winter. However, with record amounts of snow that has forced the moose onto the roads further south of here, the number killed in vehicle accidents this winter (over 450 in the MatSu Borough alone) has been staggering.

Canon 5D camera, EF 100-400 f4.5 lens at 120mm, exposure of 1/400 at f8, ISO 160, handheld with Image Stabilization.

April 2012 "Elephant Eye"
African Elephant Eye
African Elephant, Loxodanta africana, Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya

Somehow the eyes of an elephant, the largest living land mammal, look out of place. Too small for such a large animal, not what anyone would call "beady" (sneaky or untrustful), but instead looking inquisitive. With all the poaching of elephants for their ivory, maybe they should look more untrusting of humans.

Canon 5D camera, EF 100-400mm f4.5L lens at 400mm, exposure of 1/200 at f8, ISO 500, handheld with Image Stabilization.

March 2012 "Birdfeeder Visitor"
Boreal Owl
Boreal Owl, Aegolius funerus, Alaska Range Mountains, Alaska

Besides birds, my platform birdfeeder also attracts the resident wildlife--red squirrels, snowshoe hares and red-backed voles. The latter two usually act as the ground clean-up crew after the birds and squirrel have scattered the seeds. Earlier this month, the vole activity under the feeder attracted this petite Boreal Owl, who graciously posed for photographs as it intently scanned the snow for voles. He/she must have been good at its job, since I haven't seen any vole tracks since.

Canon 7D camera, EF 100-400mm f4.5L IS lens at 250mm, exposure of 1/200 and f5 at ISO 400, using a Canon 580EX flash in ETTL mode.

February 2012 "Cheetah Coalition"
Three cheetah butts
Cheetahs, Acinonyx jubatus, Masai Mara, Kenya

These three cheetah brothers are an example of something becoming more common on the Masai Mara--a cheetah coalition. Rather than going separate ways when they mature, some siblings (and they can be of mixed sexes) band together to become a formidable hunting group. Unlike their solo mother and like lion prides, they can use cooperative strategies to catch prey. And despite some squabbling, they do share their catches.

Late last year, one of these three males was killed (presumeably by lions), but the remaining two are still together. Currently there is at least one more coalition of three male cheetahs, and rumors of a coalition of four. Unfortunately, possibly because of the lions, the overall number of cheetahs on the Mara and adjacent conservancies has dropped significantly lately.

Canon 5D camera, EF 500mm f4.5L USM lens, exposure of 1/200 at f6.3 at ISO 320, on Arca Swiss B1 ballhead and Kirk window mount.

January 2012 "Sharpen Those Claws"
Cheetah Sharpening Claws
Cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, Masai Mara, Kenya

Just like domestic cats, the cheetah needs to sharpen its claws and something like this exposed tree root does the trick. Cat claws are composed of growing layers, and the purpose of scratching is to help shed the damaged outer layers. Another reason is to leave a scent from glands on their paws, helping to mark their territory. This male and his two brothers also sprayed the tree with urine before leaving.

Canon 5D camera, EF 500mm f4.5L USM lens, exposure of 1/160 at f6.3 at ISO 200, on Arca Swiss B1 ballhead and Kirk window mount.