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Orana Park, a wildlife facility here in Christchurch, recently acquired three male gorillas from Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  They are western lowland gorillas, endangered in their West African homeland, and are part of an international zoo-breeding program.

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The oldest, and largest, Fataki (12) is a silverback, dominant over his much smaller younger brothers, Fuzu and Mahali (7), who are nevertheless inclined to tease their elder brother.  They chase each other around the enclosure and beat their chests, hooting loudly.  In spite of these apparent displays of aggression, gorillas are generally peaceful animals unless seriously upset.  They are great fun to photograph, the challenge being to keep the building and other unnatural bits and pieces out of the image.

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It isn’t too hard to get a nice portrait, but capturing interaction between them is a little more difficult, and I don’t yet have anything I’m happy to post (watch this space).  A dark, or black subject is always challenging.  Because the jutting brows obscure the eyes I find that I have to work hard to see them clearly, but lightening ‘shadows’ in the raw file in Lightroom helps a lot.

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Practicing the skills of photographing mammals

Nature photography is one of my passions, and my favourite photographic subjects are mammals. I say ‘mammals’ rather than ‘animals’ because I really do mean that, and don’t include birds, reptiles, insects, etc, which are all members of the animal kingdom. This may seem an odd preference for someone living in New Zealand where there are almost no native mammals. We have just two species of bats, and I have never even attempted to photograph these. They are not very common, nocturnal, and fast! We do have a number of introduced species that are established in the wild, but somehow they don’t interest me so much.

For me, then, opportunities to photograph mammals in the wild are restricted to trips overseas. I spend about 3 months each year camping and hiking in the western USA, and have visited other countries too. However, to improve my success rate in the wild, I practice on captive mammals, especially in wildlife parks and zoos that keep their mammals in natural-looking surroundings. Here in Christchurch, we have Orana Park, and the Willowbank Reserve. Both these places allow most of their larger animals, at least, to wander through outdoor areas that are visible to the public without the impediment of obtrusive fences and other man-made structures. So I try to make images of these captive mammals that look as natural as possible.