Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – January Story

West Caucasian tur adolescents testing their sparring skills

As I was selling my unbelievably successful animal calendars for 2016 (four printings and $511 raised for rhinos – thank you all so much!!!) I would often sit with someone while they leafed through its pages, telling stories about the photos I chose for this year's edition. After a while, I realized that every single photo selected has some sort of back story; at the very least, they can each benefit from a little "fleshing out". So I decided to write a blog post for each of them and publish it in the appropriate month. January's is very late, but I will post-date all the rest so they appear on the first of each month. If you have a calendar and want to know more about the featured animals, please visit often. If not...well, the stories are still likely to be fun!

This month's animal is the west Caucasian tur, found in the Eurasian Wilds area of the Toronto Zoo, directly across from the snow leopard enclosure. These are among my favourite animals in our whole collection, because they are always so calm, sociable and inquisitive. This is one of the extremely rare areas of the zoo where a visitor can actually get close enough to touch the animal on display (but please don't!!). The huge enclosure has a high fence all around it, but one that has a wide weave and which one can very easily walk right up to at most points on its perimeter. These relatively passive goats can often be found on the cliffs (as is the case with the young lads in the picture above), but just as often they will be very close to the fence, nibbling on hay, sipping at their water, or just looking quizzically and comically at the silly human standing mere feet away, making clucking sounds and talking nonsensically at him or her in a sing-song voice. Well, at least that's what I've heard: clearly that isn't something I'd ever do. Heh heh. Heh.

I think this is the photo that I was originally going to go with for January's page, until Sarah came to the rescue. She mentioned that the other shot was much more dynamic and wondered why I had rejected it. I explained that I had tried to use it (the eventual winner) but that it had been cut off at the top and this annoyed me just enough to switch to the one at left. So Sarah went into the Vistaprint program and patiently showed me that the photo could be manipulated within its frame – similar to what one does with one's Facebook avatar when changing it to something not perfectly square – and I sheepishly admitted I hadn't even tried that. When we slid the jousting photo down a few millimetres, it fit beautifully into frame. Since it was the far superior choice, I went with it. This would have been enough of a lesson on its own, but Sarah wasn't finished (luckily for me). She asked how I had been cropping my photos in PhotoShop for the calendar pages. I explained that, because each page was 8 1/2 x 11", I had chosen the closest photo ratio I could (8 x 10) and just let it work itself out. Sarah then asked me why I had chosen that size and not, you know, actually 8 1/2 x 11. Only at that moment did it dawn on me that I could use the "Custom" crop tool to choose a specific size to match the paper I was printing it on; up until that point I had only really used the "Unrestricted" crop or the set ratios for my photos. It was a bit of a head-slapping moment, similar to the time I watched someone take pictures of our brand-new baby gorilla, heard his shutter go "click-click-click-click...", and literally exclaimed out loud, "Of course!!`I`m not buying film any more, so I can use the multiple-shot setting!" I have learned a great many things about my camera and digital photography in general in the past three years; this (multiple-shot photography) was one of the biggest game-changers of all of them. This new cropping discovery is right there with it. I hope I can improve my calendars every single time I print them. The 2016 edition is easily my favourite so far.

All of the above didn't make the cut for various reasons ranging from difficulty to crop to 8 x10, to too much fencing showing (I try to remove any visible fences from all of my shots if possible), to – in the case of the centre one ~ just having the misfortune of being up against more suitable choices. But look how cute!! I was hunting around on my hard drive for a photo of one of the tiny darlings sitting inside the hay-dispenser, happily munching away, because I know I've seen that happen numerous times; sadly, I couldn't find a single one. I can't imagine I've not taken any of those shots, but there you go. Maybe it's somewhere I didn't look. I'll keep hunting.

As for this final shot, there is one very good reason it didn't make the grade. Well, ok, maybe two reasons. In the first place, I think it's a fantastic photo, full of meaning and science and nature and all of that. I'm just not sure that enough people would think it belonged on their wall for the entire month of January. Maybe I'm selling a lot of people short, but after the reactions I had to leaving the blood in a previous year's photo of our Indian rhinos post-courtship, I'm a little reluctant to take that chance.

The second reason is a little harsher: this tiny guy, sadly, didn't make it. He had some very serious issues with his legs and he was rejected by his first-time mother. It didn't make sense for him to be hand-raised with all of the obstacles he was going to have to overcome. In the harsh natural environment that these animals live in, he would have been doomed from the moment his mom walked away from him. At least he was given a fighting chance at the Toronto Zoo until his untreatable front-end issues were discovered. Such is life (and death) in the world of animal care providers. It was still incredible to be there at the moment he entered the world. I didn't see the actual birth, as it happened inside the cave you can see in the photo, but the keepers told me it was happening and I saw mom and kid shortly thereafter.

Well, that's all I have for January. Next up: the photo that I knew was going to be February's offering the moment I took it. Tune in on the first of next month for that story!


  1. I'm excited to read about February's photo!! Great shots, all. :)

    1. Thanks,Hon! Sorry this doesn't format as well in the mobile browser, but I think everyone gets the gist. 😉


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