Birds and mammals seem to sense when you’re staring at them, willing them to stare back so you can get a great portrait with the glowing eyes looking right out of the frame. It’s hard to achieve though, and mammals in particular resist eye contact, as that often is interpreted as a threat to them. This is where telephoto magnification is essential, but even when I am quite a distance away, mammals just as often turn away as I raise the lens to focus. Obviously their eyesight is a lot better than mine.
It was snowing lightly as I walked around the zoo at Como Park late afternoon yesterday, and it was feeding time for some of the animals. This cougar was behind two wire screen fences, so it was impossible to get a clear photo of him (or her). But the cat was obviously restless, as it was pacing back and forth right along the wire fence, perhaps waiting for its dinner. It would stop for a second or two and stare into the next pen, where one of the zoo keepers was walking around. What intrigued me were the expressions in the eyes of the animal as it paced, and stared. (Try to ignore the wires that obscure the view of this magnificent animal.)
I’m glad this fence was here, because this behavior looks like a prelude to attack. Maybe the cat saw a squirrel in the next enclosure, or maybe it really didn’t like the zookeeper over there, but something was ticking the cat off.
Fun facts about cougars (or pumas, panthers, mountain lions, catamounts)
- They are the largest North America cat, and the fourth largest cat in the world. They use their weight to their advantage when attacking prey by knocking them off their feet and then jumping on the neck to sever the animal’s vertebral column.
- They can jump 18 feet straight up, and 40 feet horizontally on a run. They can pick up and drag a full-grown elk away from the kill site to hide the carcass from other predators.
- They can run 40-50 miles per hour, but only for short distances. They’re world-class sprinters, not marathoners.
- The species is one of the most adaptable predators on earth. It lives in almost every habitat throughout North and South America from arctic cold to equatorial hot zones, arid desert to lush forest. And it eats anything and everything from insects to elk.
Robert Redford wrote the foreward to the seminal volume on Mountain Lions, which is free online, if you care to read more about this interesting cat. Good action and still photos of cougars can be found at:
I have always wondered whether zoo animals are as frustrated with their confinement as we would be if we were stuck in a small room. The Minnesota Zoo does have spacious, well landscaped enclosures for many of their exhibits, but still, this is what you see.
Northern White-cheeked Gibbon stares back at onlookers.
Puma or Cougar or Mountain Lion or Catamount or Panther resting in the shade.
Snow Monkey or Japanese Macaque contemplating its next meal.
Female White-cheeked Gibbon munches thoughtfully on a stem (or perhaps she is cleaning her teeth).
Asian Wild Dog or Dhole resting on a slab of granite.
A Fisher (large member of the weasel family) peers down at the bottom of his enclosure.
Canada Lynx stares off into space.
A 6 foot Komodo Dragon doesn’t appear too threatening.
Do they seem a bit glassy-eyed and ho-hum about their zoo life?