Monday, March 31, 2014

Endangered Species Monday - African Lion

Lions are amazing animals that have become iconic symbols of the African plain. Through movies like The Lion King, children have learned that lions are looked up to with great pride by other animals. Lions are often one of the first animals a child will learn about. Of all the big cats, lions are the ones most often associated with a roar. A roar that can be heard up to 3 miles away. These majestic cats are not listed as endangered by the IUCN, but as vulnerable - only in West and Central Africa are they classified as endangered. This status will not last long at the rate humans are killing lions.

Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range. The lion population is listed as decreasing and on more than one occasion, lions have been labeled on the brink of extinction.  Aside from the fact that humans are overhunting the lion's wild prey and destroying their natural habitat, humans are also illegally killing lions for trophies to hang on their walls. As horrible as this sounds, it is true.

Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera's Lion Program Director said, "Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger."

African lions live about 10-15 years in the wild and have been known to live up to 30 years in zoos. However, the average lifespan in captivity is 20 years.

The lioness pictured above is Tango. Tango was a Transvaal lion who was born at the San Diego Zoo on August 12, 1992. She and her sister Mweezi lived at the Safari Park for a while, where Tango gave birth to a litter of 3 cubs in 1995. Shortly after giving birth, Tango and her sister came back to the zoo where they both lived out the remainder of their lives. Mweezi passed away in 2009 and Tango left us January 20, 2013 ... she was 20 years old.

Although Tango was born and raised in captivity, she never let anyone forget that she was a wild African lion at heart ... Her roars could be heard on a daily basis. Lions are social animals and it was obvious that Tango missed her sister.

Make your voice heard and Cause an Uproar with National Geographic's Big Cat Initiative or join the fight with Panthera on Project Leonardo. Whatever you do, however you chose to create awareness for these magnificent big cats, just remember that you can make a difference. Lions deserve to roam the African plains without the fear of being killed by man. Africa is their home and we should respect that.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Day My Laptop Crashed

It is one of those things you say will never happen to you. It only happens to other people.

It is the reason we all backup our pictures, but really, that is just a precaution, because like I said, it will never happen to me. 

And then the day comes when you turn on your computer, your trusted friend who has been there for you day and night, the one who got you through so many college papers, and they greet with you a black screen. Not the award-winning picture of a tiger you expect to see, just a black screen. No icons, nothing. 

Yes, this happened to me. 

I can't even begin to tell you how may times I tried turning the computer on and off. Taking out the battery and putting it back in, thinking surely this would fix the problem. To my dismay, nothing was working. The hard drive was gone. Ka-put. Nada. And my life was quickly spiraling out of control. How would I write? How would I edit all the photos I had uploaded from my camera?

Oh no, my photos? 
Wait. Yes. I had just done a full back up 3 days prior. My photos were safe.

This was almost three weeks ago. Three long weeks of limited social media and basically no photography. Sure, I could access Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone, but it just wasn't the same. I have a Chromebook, which I love, but it just isn't the same. Since it was the only working computer, Dylan pretty much had it all the time for his school work and games. I know, the sacrifices we make as parents are rough.

Ironically, after a week or so I wasn't really missing social media like I thought I would. I was actually enjoying the break. It was nice not to worry about deadlines and scheduled posts. Nice not to think about writers block or whether or not people would even read the post I was writing. The only problem was I really missed my photography. I missed seeing my pictures in Lightroom. It wasn't that I missed posting them to Facebook or sharing them on Twitter, what I missed was the photography itself. 

To me, photography is not a competition. It is not about being the first to get the shot. Photography is an art form - a creative outlet that has become part of me.   

Today my new computer arrived. The first new computer I have had since Dylan was born. Once the basics had been set up and the internet connection established, I had one very important thing to download. I felt a sense of joy come over me as I double-clicked that little icon. Lightroom was back. Oh, how I missed her. 

Moral of the story... the day my laptop crashed may have been a blessing in disguise. I learned that the art of photography itself is more important to me than sharing the pictures on social media. Sure, I love having people like my pictures, I would be lying if I said that I didn't, but there is so much more to life than how many likes a picture gets on Facebook. 

So friends, back up your photographs on an external hard drive ...
because this can happen to you. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

You never know what will happen when you're feeding a giraffe!

Feeding giraffes is sort of second nature to Dylan now. He has fed them twice at the zoo and twice on a Caravan Safari at the Safari Park. So I would think that he could follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1 - When the safari guide gives you a bunch of leaves, hold them in your right hand. Keep your right hand down by your side. The giraffe will be coming up to your left side.

Rule #2 - Take one leaf at a time and place it in your left hand. Hold the leaf up and the giraffe will take it from you.

Rookie mistake of taking too long to transfer the leaves from one hand to another and a hungry giraffe who knows the routine, resulted in this ...

A priceless capture of Dylan in disbelief of what just happened and a giraffe who is looking for more leaves. I love both of their expressions!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do you have a favorite frog species?

Today is World Frog Day and we wanted to share a few of our favorite little amphibians. After all, today is their day ... A day to celebrate frogs!

Vietnamese Mossy Frog

Amazon Milk Frog

Poison Dart Frog

More Poison Dart Frogs

Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

Tree Frog

Happy World Frog Day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Love of Reading Non-Fiction and an Eagerness to Learn More

Any day my son wants to read is a good day in my book. Reading is one of my favorite ways to learn, not to mention an opportunity to transport yourself to another place and time. Dylan has enjoyed reading since he was very young. Whether I was reading stories to him or he was making up his own stories to the pictures, the love of reading has always played a significant role in his life.

Dylan has never been one for chapter books like most kids his age or for fictional books. His passion is reading non-fiction. He wants to learn when he reads. Although he has read Call of the Wild, Gulliver's Travels, and most recently Small as an Elephant, he really does prefer the factual books. 

I'm sure many of you have been in gift shops with your kids and they want some plastic toy that you know will break in a few days, or a stuffed animal that will get tossed aside in a week or two. So you can imagine my excitement when we walk into a gift shop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and he asks for a book. 

Not just any book, but the book ... the book he saw in the library when we toured the Beckman Center for Conservation Research. 
The one and only LOST ANIMALS Extinction and the Photographic Record

Now this book may not seem very interesting to you, but it ad Dylan grinning from ear to ear. Why you ask? Well, see that animal on the cover? That is a Thylacine, also known as a Tasmanian Tiger. Dylan has had lengthy conversations about this extinct animal with zookeepers and is truly fascinated with them.  

So far he has learned about the Heath Hen, which became extinct in 1932. A devastating fire swept through the breeding grounds on Martha's Vineyard and the remaining hens died from a mysterious disease, possibly the result of in-breeding. The last known Heath Hen was named 'Booming Ben'

One of the animals that Dylan spoke to Dr. Ryder about was the Quagga and he is anxious to read more about this fascinating animal. I love that he has an eagerness to learn more and can continue to nourish his passion for learning through reading books like this. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I may not be Irish, but I like the color green and I have green eyes that are smilin'

Snakes may not be my favorite, but this photograph is a favorite of mine

This may not be the Emerald Isle, but it IS an Emerald Tree Python ...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Little Bundle of Joy Joins the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Family

Last weekend Dylan and I had the pleasure of watching the gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for quite some time. I am still amazed at how human-like these animals are ... and just like humans, sometimes births can be complicated. Thankfully, Imani and her newborn daughter had top-notch care.

Baby Girl Gorilla
Photo taken on Mar. 13, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

According to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 18-year-old gorilla, Imani, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday, on March 12th, around 6:30 p.m. at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Imani showed signs of labor yesterday morning and was closely observed by animal care and veterinary staff. By evening, she showed no signs of progress and was transported to the Safari Park veterinary hospital for an emergency c-section. 

The full-term baby, weighing 4.6 pounds, was delivered by a team of San Diego Zoo Global staff and outside consultants, including a veterinary surgeon and human neonatal specialists from UCSD Medical Center. The baby is showing some complications believed to be related to the difficult labor, and she is currently in intensive care receiving oxygen and supplemental fluids at the veterinary hospital. Imani is recovering from surgery in the familiar surroundings of the gorilla bedroom area. 

This video of the delivery brought tears to my eyes. Such a beautiful moment captured here.

As with humans, the decision to perform an emergency c-section is not something doctors take lightly. However, when the mother or unborn baby appear to be in distress, a c-section can mean the difference between life and death.

“In retrospect the c-section was the right decision,” Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park said of the newborn gorilla. “We think the health of the fetus would have been compromised if we delayed the surgery any longer” Lamberski said. 

1-day-old baby girl gorilla with Safari Park keeper Jennifer Minichino and Dr. Jack Allen
Photo taken on Mar. 13, 2014, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Like I said, just last Saturday we were watching Imani walk around the gorilla exhibit and eat lunch with the rest of her troop. She was so cute with her round baby belly. One of the gorilla keepers told us that she was due any day. We are sending lots of positive thoughts to Imani and her daughter in hopes of a speedy recovery from surgery and a healthy start for this precious new life.

This is the first baby for Imani and the 17th gorilla to be born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The Safari Park is home to eight gorillas, including the new baby. There are four females: Vila, Kamilah, Kokamo, and Imani;two young males: Monroe, born at the Safari Park in 2011, and Frank, born at the San Diego Zoo in 2008; and adult male Winston, the silverback leader of the troop.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A day of exploring the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Over the weekend Dylan and I went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a little adventure of our own. No meet-ups with other photographers, no special event, just a day to explore and have fun. This past weekend was quite warm, but we have been missing our animal friends at the Safari Park so we prepared ourselves for the heat and ventured out to Escondido.

Of course our first stop is always the rhino statue with an obligatory photo. It's kind of a tradition now.

Nairobi Station is always fun to visit and even more so when the kids from Conservation Corps are there teaching kids about endangered animals. Whether it's touching an ivory elephant tusk, seeing a giraffe vertebrae, or sizing up your hand to a gorillas hand ... there is always something new to learn.

Next stop, more adventure ... and it looks like Dylan has the right of way!

We had so much fun exploring and seeing our friends. We saw Wally the blue-tongued skink with her keeper and and Izu or favorite lion relaxing in the shade. We took a tram ride through Asia and Africa and saw Nola the Northern White rhino standing in the water. This pretty much made our day and I would have been fine going home. Any day seeing Nola is a great day!

Luckily we continued our adventure and got to spend some time with the gorillas while they were having lunch. Winston is such a character, Frank and Monroe had us laughing, and Imani has got to be the cutest pregnant gorilla ever. The keeper said she's due any day now!

Tiger exhibit is completely closed off now because of the final stages for Tiger Trail ... we have really missed seeing the tigers at the Safari Park, but know they are going to love their new home. Just a few more months and Tiger Trail will be open. An adventure without cats isn't very fun, especially when you are a big cat lover like we are. Thankfully Ken and Dixie were out to share their cuteness with the world. I can't believe how big they have gotten. (Pictures coming soon)

So much to see and so much to explore.

A day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is always an adventure! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Photographing Big Cats: Spotlight Snow Leopards

A few weeks ago I headed down to the San Diego Zoo with one goal - to get some fantastic pictures of the big cats. I love watching the leopards and jaguars, but have never had much luck getting decent pictures of them.

Up until recently I had been using a Canon Power Shot SX150 IS, which is a great camera and gave me some amazing photographs, even award-winning photographs. However, I wanted more. I wanted to get those amazing images that my friends were capturing. Last December I bought myself a Canon EOS Rebel T3 and I've had a blast experimenting with the settings. This particular day I used my 75-300mm lens and was finally able to capture the cats in a way like never before.

Meet Beau, the Snow Leopard

Snow leopards are endangered and need our help. They have thick luxurious fur that is 5 inches thick to help protect them from the extreme cold temperatures of their natural habitat in the mountain ranges of Central Asia.

Their thick tail is used for balancing while climbing the rocky cliffs of the Himalayas.

One of the things I love about photographing wildlife is that it gives me another avenue to use when connecting with my readers. Sometimes it is the picture that tells the story and captures the heart more than the words.

Sadly, these beautiful animals are rarely seen in the wild. Visit and find out how you can help to save these beautiful cats.