Go On A Safari At Home

Animals make for interesting subjects and I love to photograph the exotic as much as I enjoy the common neighborhood ones.  There is something intriguing about watching animal behavior, be it the intelligence they display or their instinctive behaviors.  While some seem shy in front of the camera others seem to know when the “camera is rolling” and it’s time to perform.  This unknown in the animal kingdom is what makes it entertaining and what makes for some of the challenge and reward when it comes to creating great animal photographs.

It’s unlikely that I’ll have many opportunities to travel and go on safaris or explore the wild places of polar bears or penguins. My opportunities for travel are limited because it’s expensive and also because I have a wife and three children and leaving them for long periods of time isn’t conducive to my wife’s sanity.  Since I don’t really travel, the best places I’ve found to get great animal shots are local zoos and aquariums. Now, these are not without controversy and the concerns about animal well-being are thoroughly documented and sometimes justified. I would much rather see a wild animal in the wild but not if it means there is a risk of poaching or danger due to habitat loss.  While zoos are not the ideal home for animals they do provide a place for rehabilitation and education and some zoos do participate in captive breeding and reintroduction back into the wild.

One of the horses used for wagon rides at Rockwood Park

You don’t need to live in Florida, California or cities like Vancouver to take advantage of the animals in your hometown.  Rockwood Park is a great urban park where I live and as an added benefit it’s free. Inside of Rockwood are several lakes and ponds that are home to multiple species of ducks such as Mallards and Wigeons.  Besides the waterfowl, there is ample opportunity to see deer, squirrels and chipmunks. Spotting a hawk, eagle or turkey vulture is not unusual either.  Almost every town or city has a park like this. Take some time to get out and enjoy the one near you.

A two hour car ride from the city where I live is Moncton’s Magnetic Hill Zoo .  This zoo is a terrific park with everything from exotic birds and primates to the massive mammals like lions and buffalo. The park is 40 acres so it takes a long, long time to cover the whole place with 3 small kids. I’m not sure what I enjoy more the animals themselves or the reactions from my kids as they travel from each area to the next with anticipation of what they will see next.  Seeing wildlife on a show like Planet Earth or Life is great but nothing compares to seeing animals like a ring-tailed lemur in person.  The visit also makes for great family memories and still creates excitement in the stories my children tell.

Ring-Tailed Lemur - Magnetic Hill Zoo, Moncton, NB

One of the best zoo trips I’ve ever taken, almost twenty years ago, was to the Toronto Metropolitan Zoo and its 710 acres of exhibit area and 10 km of walking trails.  While I was attending college in Peterborough my wife and I took a trip to the “big city” and spent the day walking the trails around this incredible park.  You can literally spend the whole day on the grounds and still not see all of it.  I was also lucky that a friend and co-worker lent me his Nikon F4 and a Nikon 70-200 2.8 for the trip.  This was a huge step up from my first fully manual camera, a Minolta x370.  It was like a going from a Hyundai Accent to a Porsche 911.

Elephants at the Toronto Zoo

Zoos have provided a lot of fun for our family to get outside and enjoy nature and a few amazing creatures that we don’t have the opportunity to see in our own little world.  It’s also a little ironic that my wife and I met at the zoo and now three children later it feels a little like … well let’s just say some days I wish we met at the library.

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