Diane Ross
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Photographing Animals at Wild Eyes Animal Adventures

I don't even know how to begin. I guess I'll just start at the beginning. I get to the airport to start my latest adventure with my E-ticket. I have a bag to check so instead of using the machine I decide to stand in line and check in the normal way. When I get to the clerk he insists that I go use the stupid machine. I try to check in at the machine but it wants a conformation number and I can't find one. The guy comes over to help and says I have to check in using Northwest even though I booked the ticket through Continental. (Northwest and Continental have some sort of flight sharing thing going on.) I go through it all again and it still wants a conformation number. The guy tells me I can just go to the gate and check in if I don't have any bags to check but of course I need to check my bag. Eventually he calls NW and they say my reservation was canceled. After a few minutes on the phone he tells me I am lucky because there are seats available on my flights. I think he is lucky because I am mad enough to make one heck of a scene if he had told me I could not get on my flights.

The flight was 45 minutes late leaving Detroit and I only had an hour lay over in Cleveland. When we landed in Cleveland I had 15 minutes to find my next plane. Lucky it happened to be the plane I flew in on (with a different flight number) so it would have been hard to miss. This flight was delayed 15 minutes and I only had a 40-minute layover in Minneapolis. The next plane was only a few gates away from where we arrived so I got to it as they were boarding. However I was starving. I had eaten lunch at about 11 A.M. and they were only serving those little bags of pretzels on the planes. I never had time to grab something to eat during my short layovers and it was now around 7 P.M.

This is where the story gets really interesting. Even though it was only a couple days ago it already seems like more of a dream. We take off and it is a fairly rough flight. You can see lighting through the windows and it is hard to drink your pop without spilling it. About an hour into the flight I notice my ears popping, which I find strange but don't really think much about. Shortly after that the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. I look at them and ask, "Is this for real?" I actually think there has been a malfunction in the oxygen mask system because the plane seems fine and I can breathe. I hear the stewardess say to put on your oxygen masks. So I reach out and grab one and pull it just like they tell you too. There is a white cord dangling from it that I think is the elastic but it is only attached at one end. I try to figure out how to attach the other end so I can put it on but there is no place to attach it. I finally decide to just hold it against my face. I look at an extra mask and see that its cord is only attached at one end also. A couple minutes later I am switching hands and my hand gets caught in the elastic band and I realize it is attached at both ends so I put my mask on correctly. Then I look at the extra mask again and I see that it has a white cord on it and an elastic band. I think the cord holds the masks up until you pull them. By now I have also realized that we are losing altitude very rapidly and I start trying to figure out if the loss of altitude feels controlled or not. The lady next to me asks how to know if the oxygen is working and I tell her since she hasn't passed out she is getting oxygen.  Except for the occasional turbulence I decide it is a controlled decent. Eventually the plane levels off and we are told that the cabin pressurization system failed, we descended to 10000 feet and we can take off our oxygen masks now. The plane is structurally sound and we are waiting for dispatch to tell us where we are going to land.   We end up back in Minneapolis where we spend the night. At seven the next morning we leave for Kalispell again and this time we make it. Unfortunately my luggage didn't. They told me it missed the connection in Cleveland. Raccoon016-a61.jpg (21380 bytes) Since the plane I flew out of Cleveland on was the same one I flew in on they must have taken it off by mistake.

I am picked up at the airport around 9:30 A.M. The truck has an 18-month-old grizzly named Maye in the back of it. Because of my late arrival I have missed the shoot with Maye and she is so adorably. In the afternoon we shoot a baby raccoon (Rocky) and lynx kitten (Logan). We used a fenced in pen with a lot of greenery and some tree stumps in it. The animals are placed on the tree stumps and we take pictures as they move around.

The next morning the sun is shining brightly and we take a mountain lion (Ginger) and a leopard (Jade) down to their fenced in compound. leopard016-a01.jpg (24358 bytes)What basically happens is the trainers play with the animals and we take pictures.   The animals are bribed with food to climb trees and sit on stumps. The trainers will crouch down a few hundred feet away from the animal and it will charge and leap onto the trainer and then smother him with kisses. I wish I were the one playing with them animals instead of taking their pictures. When the shoot is over we are allowed to pet the animals.   Jade licks my hand puts a paw on each of my shoulders and gives me what feels like a hug while she plays with my hair. I am in heaven.

Later in the afternoon we again shoot the baby lynx and we also shoot a baby bobcat (Freckles). The two look very similar but have different personalities even at this young age. Logan is very vocal and wants to be picked up and cuddled all the time.  This is true regardless of whether he is being photographed or not. If he is not asleep he or being held he is complaining about it. Freckles takes everything in stride and only makes a noise when she is hungry and wants to be feed.

We also get to play with a young Barbary lion (Daniel). I think they said he was 8 months old. In addition to the other babies they also have two wolf pups (Apache & Cheyenne) that I absolutely fall in love with. Whenever possible I climb into the pen and play with them. At first they were a little wary of me but by the time I left they would run over to the fence and beg me to come in every time I saw them.  Thinking of them still makes me feel like crying. I wish I could have smuggled them home somehow.

On day 3 we go back to the same compound with a 3 year old tiger (Shikara), a 13-month-old wolf (Dakota) and the wolf pups. It is basically a repeat of yesterday. Shikara absolutely loves juniper. Rod (the trainer) tells us it is like catnip to tigers. She rubs it all over herselfWolf016-c12.jpg (34266 bytes) and eats it. The trees are somewhat the worse for wear when she is finished with them but it makes for some wonderful photo opportunities.

After Shikara they get Dakota and the wolf pups. Before Dakota enters the compound I pet him. He stands on his hind legs puts one foot on each of my shoulders and proceeds to wash my face with his tongue just like a big friendly dog would do. I would be willing to come here just so I could play with the animals. Anyway, Dakota just loves playing with the puppies. He is so gentle with them. It is also obvious that the puppies love playing with Dakota. They go over and pester him every few minutes if he starts to ignore them. He also enjoys the freedom of the compound and races around it several times. He is really still a puppy himself and keeps trying to steal the jackets we have shed as the day warmed up. He also likes to pull on any equipment straps we have dangling from our bodies.

When we get back to the lodge I get to pet Shikara as they are unloading her. She rubs up against me and licks my hand. Later in the evening we get to shoot a badger, a porcupine, and the baby cats again. I don't think I have ever really looked at a porcupine before. They are one of the cutest animals I have ever seen.

Porcupine016-a03.jpg (32331 bytes)During the past few days we have also been allowed to feed the babies. It is amazing how fast they can suck down a bottle of milk. I am not ready to go home yet. There is nothing really unusually about that. I rarely want to go home after a trip. I can't believe how attached I have become to the wolf pups in 2 and a half days. Maybe it is because I have breed dogs before and theses little guys are so much like dog puppies right down to the puppy breath. Leaving them is going to be the hardest part of this trip.

When I came here I wasn't sure how I felt about photographing captive animals. I would like to be able to take pictures like this in the wild but it just isn't possible. The majority of close ups you see in magazines and calendars are taken of captive animals. Many animals are too shy to let people near. Getting too close to a fox or wolf den can stress the animals and cause them to move their den sites. This puts their babies at a higher risk for predation. Others are liable to kill you if you sneak in for a face shot. Admittedly, some pros can spend a lot of time getting a group of animals to trust them and can get close ups of them. Once the animals have learned that people are not a threat then hunters can also get close to them. There is a metro park near me where the deer have learned that people are not a danger and will come right up to you. Some will eat out of your hand. The powers that be have decided that the deer population in the park is too high and now each fall people go in and shoot these deer. Shooting deer that will eat out of your hand is very sporting to me.  While I like having the animals trust me I don't want to make it easier for the hunters to kill them. The animals are better off if they keep their fear of man.


Tour Operator:  Wild Eyes

Wild Eyes is no longer in business.

If you are interested in this type of trip check out Animals of Montana.