I've had three lion photos ready to share for a while now, but I thought they seemed a little lonely to share in a post on their own. But more recently I photographed another big cat I really like; a lynx. So here's a set of seven new lion and lynx portraits, along with some bonus big cat content afterwards, for fans of all things feline.
Probably my favourite lion photo I've taken to date. I've always struggled to photograph them for one reason or another. They've just never seemed to play ball in the past.
This particular lion was rescued from a circus, when animal circuses were finally banned in the UK, a few years ago. He's now living a much happier and fulfilled life, with others of his kind. It's beyond me how circuses were allowed to use 'performing' lions for so long - it feels a concept from the 1920s, but in fact it went on for almost 100 years after that - and still does in some parts of Europe.
I'm very grateful though, that I'm able to see such animals in zoos and wildlife centres in the UK. It occurred to me as I was thinking about this post, that I've never seen a big cat in the wild - and probably never will. The wild cats in the places I've visited (UK, Scandinavia, North America) are incredibly secretive, and rarely seen by anyone. I guess there's always the chance I might get to go to India or Africa at some point, but it's not on the cards for the foreseeable future. I've written about Zoos and Captive Wildlife Photography before, so I won't repeat too much of that. Suffice to say that when run responsibly, I think they provide an incredible opportunity for everyday people like me to come face-to-face with an animal they would otherwise never get to see. Those experiences are priceless for adults and children, especially those growing up in countries and regions like the UK which eradicated all their large native predators centuries ago.
“We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.” – Richard Louv.
On the day I took these lion photos he broke into a roar on a couple of occasions, and it was unlike anything I have experienced in years of seeing lions on TV. I was two or three meters away from him, and he was generating a sound that penetrated everything around him. The ground was shaking, even the air seemed to be shaking. For me, the accessibility of these captive ambassadors of their species is vital in a world where people live less and less connected to nature. There's simply no replacement for that experience, to get people engaged with wildlife and conservation.
Lynx are a species native to the UK, and much of Europe, Russia, and Canada. They've been absent from our island for a long time, but there's a growing movement to reintroduce them here. I for one, would love to see them reintroduced, both for the good of the ecosystem they form part of, and for the positive feeling that would create amongst all those living here. Unfortunately they don't offer the tourism attraction of some other species, since they're so secretive, they'll never be seen. But there are plenty of countries showing how we can live alongside them. And I know I'd be happier going to sleep at night knowing they're out there.
I took these photos late last year, and it's actually one of my favourite times to visit wildlife centres for photography. Firstly, they're not too busy, so the experience is more enjoyable. But also, the early sunset times can overlap with opening times, so you get to shoot through the golden hour.
In truth, I'd have preferred a side-light rather than these back-lighting conditions, but what can you do? The light on the lynx itself (I've re-phrased that, so I don't get bogged down in trying to work out the plural) is fairly flat, with only a little reflected light on its face. Which is certainly not optimal. But on the other hand, the light twinkling through the foliage behind does add something very pleasing to all of these portraits.
Gosh, they've handsome devils.
Bonus Content: More Big Cats!
Some from the archive here. First, a cat almost as mysterious and secretive as the lynx. They go by many names; "Cougar", "Puma", or more commonly these days "Mountain Lion". This photo is now over ten years old, but I've rarely shared it, so it's nice to give it a proper outing in a blog post.
This black & white tiger photo has been on my website print shop for some years, and was an early foray into low-key nature photography, but I still like it.
The last one is another oldie, but I love the pose in this one. He really does seem deep in contemplation here, and the curve of the subject, and weight of composition really works for me.
That's it for now. As I said, I've never been anywhere to see cats in the wild, and have often struggled to photograph them in captivity too, so they've been a tricky subject for me. But they're a perennial favourite, and a subject I'll always go back to.