Big cats in Greenville

If it weren’t for these pesky allergies, I think I’d run away and join the zoo. Let me rephrase that. Work at the zoo. There’s not much I’d rather do than spend hours at the zoo watching and learning about all the animals.

While in an ideal world we’d actually live in harmony with all the animals nature has to offer, zoos do offer glimpses of creatures we may never otherwise see, and in some cases, cooperative breeding programs work hard to help keep endangered species from dying out.

The latest zoo to capture my attention was the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina. It’s not a large zoo, and one drawback to taking photos is nearly all the animals are in cages of some sort, so it’s hard to get a clear view without some kind of distortion. But I managed to spend almost three hours trying!

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I snapped a few clear shots of this pacing ocelot.

The Greenville Zoo has several big cats including two ocelots, Oz and Evita. Wild ocelots are found in Central and South America, although they have also been spotted in parts of Arizona and Texas. Like all big cats, they are quite beautiful.

amur leopard
There are two Amur leopards at the Greenville Zoo. I caught this one napping.

I discovered Amur leopards only recently, while visiting another zoo. Amur leopards are the most endangered big cats. It is estimated there are only about 70 left in the wild, which is a tragedy. The few that are left are in Russia and northeast China.

amur 2
The cats were napping when I stopped by their habitat the first time. I was happy to see them awake a little later.

The zoo does have lions, but I was unable to get good pictures of those.

There were many more animals to see at the Greenville Zoo, including a very inquisitive giraffe. More posts coming soon.



In honor of tigers

Today is International Tiger Day, so I’m revisiting some Amur tigers I’ve been lucky enough to see. There aren’t many tigers left in the wild. I’ve seen estimates of anywhere from 3,000 to 3,200.

These Amur tigers are the largest subspecies. Critically endangered, they are native to eastern Russia, northeastern China and northern Korea. There were three females at Milwaukee County Zoo when I stopped by; they’ve since added a fourth, a male. The Milwaukee County Zoo participates in animal conservation and breeding programs through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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I couldn’t keep my eyes off this beauty.
This is about as close to a tiger as I’ll probably ever get.

The Saint Louis Zoo also has Amur (Siberian) tigers, and this zoo also participates in conservation and breeding programs to help ensure the survival of this majestic species. According to one of their zoo managers, as of last year there were just 450 Amur tigers left in the wild – at most.

WMst. louis tiger
After mulling over the idea, this tiger decided to take a bath.

It saddens me a bit to see these big cats, who roam thousands of miles in the wild, in enclosed parks, but I am also grateful that responsible zoos are doing their best to not only care for these animals, but trying to help ensure their survival. I want there to always be tigers.

Big cats, Florida-style

Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL, has just two types of big cats, but they are well worth seeing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a cheetah, although I’ve tried. Several zoos I’ve visited lately have advertised this version of spotted cat, but they’ve been busy napping, or hiding, when I stopped by.

My husband and some of our extended family stalked the cheetah enclosure a few times last week, and we were able to withstand the heat and humidity long enough to stay for the cheetah “talk” that afternoon. Like most cats, the big females slept and rested through most of the day, but roused themselves when three of their keepers, armed with big poles just in case, came through the gate for a visit.

cheetah comin
Is it dinnertime, yet?

The three girls made halfhearted attempts at playing with balls tossed around by the staff members, but it was too hot for them to agree to play. They did, however, lay down well in sight of our group, and tolerated much picture taking, to our delight.

We learned that cheetahs can run up to 50 mph, but only in short sprints. In the wild, they gorge themselves so much on prey they have to rest before moving on to digest their meal in a safe place. Wild cheetahs live in Africa, and the females are solitary unless mating or mothering cubs. Since there are no male cheetahs at the Brevard Zoo, these girls will be kept together as long as they tolerate each others’ company.

Earlier in the day, we spied several sleeping jaguars. One wanted to be left alone.

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This big cat slept away the afternoon.

The other, we spied napping by a wall, looking very much like it would enjoy a nice scratch under the chin. The enclosure wisely prevented anyone from trying.

jaguar nap
While it looks like a big house cat, this pretty jaguar would not make a good pet.

Top cats at the St. Louis Zoo

I was lucky enough to visit the St. Louis Zoo twice this year, and while it includes a number of fascinating animals, my main reason for visiting is seeing the big cats. Jaguars, I discovered, can still be found in parts of the southwest.

Tigers are more rare, however. Several sub-species, including the Amur tiger in St. Louis, are critically endangered. Tigers are also the world’s largest cats, and used to be my favorite, but there are so many lovely big cats, it’s difficult to pick just one!

watermarked tiger
I stayed long enough on my last visit to see this tiger enjoy an afternoon bath.

The snow leopard on display was content to “hide” in its tree all day. I say all day, as I was there for five hours, and the lower branches of the tree were where it stayed.

Can you see why snow leopards are so hard to spot in the wild?

But I was delighted to find the Amur leopard awake, and so close I could see its golden eyelashes as it paced. I could watch big cats all day, and on this visit, I nearly did!

angry amur
I discovered Amur leopards at the St. Louis Zoo. They quickly became one of my favorite big cats.

Check out my big cat videos on my Facebook page at



Get wild in the city: The Saint Louis Zoo

I’m like a kid when it comes to the Z-O-O. Mention those three letters in succession and I am prowling the Internet, in search of snow leopards and polar bears.

My husband’s latest assignment landed him in Saint Louis. I was able to visit after a few long months, and my first outing (after we spent a chilly evening exploring the city around the hotel), was to the St. Louis Zoo.

Bordered by Government Drive and Wells Drive in 1,371-acre Forest Park, the zoo is family-friendly, and mostly free. I parked on the outskirts, in order to bypass the parking fee, and walked nearly a mile before I asked a parent the grown-up equivalent of, “Are we there yet?” Just around the corner, was the reply, so I knew then I was heading in the right direction.

Looking back at the map now, I could have saved myself some time in finding the objects of my affection, because I apparently took the long way around. But there was much to see around every corner.

tall giraffe
No zoo visit is complete without seeing a few giraffes.

I found the Bird House and Bird Garden, which included a burrowing owl, and several Collie’s jays. I took pictures of both, but the jays are extremely lively and the owl was a bit too far away to get the snapshots as clear as I wanted.

I did manage a few peeks at Kali, the new bear on the block (he has lived at the zoo for less than a year). Popular with children, Kali was looking for treats that afternoon, and quickly found some.

polar bear looking
Kali was orphaned in the wild, but responds well to visitors.
polar bear yum
Kali enjoying an afternoon snack.

Once I made my way to Big Cat Country at Red Rocks, I began my search for snow leopards. I found one, sleeping comfortably, in the crook of a tall tree.

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Snow leopards are known for their big paws and long, bushy tails.

I also found a gorgeous Amur leopard, also napping the afternoon away. Amur leopards are even more rare than snow leopards; they are nearly extinct in the wild.

amur leopard
Breathtakingly beautiful, Amur leopards are also known as Far East leopards. They are critically endangered.

No less beautiful, but more intent on exploring its habitat, was a nearby jaguar.

Unlike some of the other big cats, this jaguar was wide awake.

I made a few more trips to see the snow and the Amur leopard before I left the zoo. I missed seeing the cougar (who must have been sleeping away from prying eyes), and the tiger was awake, but not wanting to sit still for pictures.

The male lion, however, obliged.

daddy lion
This handsome fellow kept both eyes on me, until he became bored with my picture taking and moved away.
daddy lion mane
While the female hid in the shadows, her mate was more interested in finding a nice spot in the sun.

All good trips must come to an end, and I had to find my way back to the car. I headed out, as I had a long walk. I was amused on the way out by a gorilla, who was tossed a bag of goodies by a zookeeper. He grabbed the bag and ran, to enjoy his snack, out of sight.

gorilla gimme that
This Western lowland gorilla grabbed its lunch and disappeared.