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Shooting at the Zoo

Update 1

I thought that it would be fun to share some photographs that I have taken over the past few years at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the Philadelphia Zoo during the summer of 2010. I have something like 3000 photographs of gorillas that I’ve taken at the LPZ alone. Part of this was in an effort to write a scientific/souvenir book about them, but otherwise it is a side hobby. I would love to hear comments, thoughts, questions, or pointers about any of these following photographs!


Courtesy Christena Nippert-Eng for taking this photo: At LPZ and this photo portrays part of the difficulty of taking pictures in zoos: shooting through glass, maneuvering between other visitors, and having to be constantly prepared

It looks like I may be in a good place for a photo of Kwan, but these photos that I later reviewed turned out badly. I realized this at the time but I was in the absolute best spot with all the other visitors around.


This next photo is Rollie. She was in one of the best possible spots to have her picture taken. Sitting upon the log, a straight shot through the glass, and lit from both the front and back, she looks directly into my lens. She had been making averting with my eye contact with me for some time before giving me a longer stare back. It is polite to look away fleetingly and offer them your profile. It’s a presentation of self. Smiling is also seen to be rude. Have you ever seen a gorilla smile?

Shot of Rollie and very clear; shot through glass and natural lighting.

A very strong willed individual, Bahati is an asset to any troop she joins.


Whole Foods donates food for the animals at the LPZ which helps to supplement the gorilla biscuits, which they also like.

It is their territory, and many visitors don’t know how to properly respect this boundary; often hitting the glass to gain their attention is quite repulsive. It’s the wrong kind of attention; now they collectively know who to ignore.

Notice key similarities between the two: they both have a pointed saggital crest, they both have bald patches on their arms, and they are both known for hoarding behavior.

If they see a rather strange or mysterious individual, it is common for the silverback, or silverback-to-be to, show their agitation.

Azizi as he was patrolling the area when he spotted a strange-looking visitor. He was wearing a dark hoodie and was initially peering through the bushes along the far fence of the outside habitat. He keept making direct eye contact with Azizi who soon became agitated. Jojo even became alerted for a brief moment but calmed down while Azizi maintained full sentry-mode.

This photo further highlights some of the difficulties of shooting photos at the zoo. Notice the glare on the glass near Jojo. This picture also shows the active and omnipresent status hierarchy enacted; Jojo has rights to any space he pleases. Bahati (far left) and Suzie (near center) are higher status individuals and Tabibu (seen in the back) is the lowest status female. Verticality is often used as a way to stretch spatial distancing in the apes and when the highest status occupies the lowest spaces, lower status individuals typically spread out horizontally first then vertically second.

The gorillas greatly enjoy regular visitors, though, and they will often spend time sitting near and looking over your shoulder.

This photo shows Pat, a long-time visitor, who the gorillas recognized. Pat was a professor of art in Chicago and kept amazing photographs of the individuals. She was known for her long one-on-one sessions with Makari, shown here, where Makari would watch while Pat entertained her by interacting with unique objects. Makari is known for learning to wipe her nose after a keeper showed her how and also for tying a simple knot in straw wrapped around her leg. Her legacy is known as well, where another son of her's, Jelani, is known for his artwork which the Louisville zoo sells.

These next few photos were taken at the Philadelphia Zoo. Living there for 6 months I had only visited it once. To be fair, it did cost around $20. The LPZ is absolutely free, save for parking (unless one knows where to look: Canon Dr.). I found these interesting creatures and have since forgotten their name. If anyone has any information on these creatures, I will certainly update this.

That look...



The black one came over and got cozy on the lighter brown one and my anthropomorphic imagination hints that one is enjoying the company more than the other.


I forgot the name of these monkeys, but one distinct behavior seen by these particular two is mouth-to-face cleaning.

Back at the LPZ, I hardly leave the RCAA where the apes live. This is a favorite pohtograph that catches my eye as I blast past 1000’s of photos in my Lightroom (an excellent program and would like to hear what others use).

Not a primate and so outside the scope of my typical animal photos, but I always try to make it through other animal houses at the LPZ and this beautiful composition caught my eye.

New Blog, New Tool

Let’s see if I can get this blogging thing sorted out.

Today Project Vote Smart, a non-partisan and not for profit political research library, launched their much anticipated Vote Easy tool. This tool allows the voter-to-be to fill out 12 issue positions on a variety of topics, from gun control, social policies, and defense spending. It then actively and graphically moves the candidates closer or further from you, depending how you relate to them by answering the questions for yourself.

You may see that the candidates “Lack Courage;” in Vote Smart’s eyes, Political Courage is the ability to tell the citizens where you stand on any particular issue, CLEARLY. Most candidates do not fill out the survey. Today, less than half of all candidates, and even fewer incumbents, ever take the survey. Up until the 2008 Presidential Election, John McCain sat upon the board of directors (where PVS board of directors must contain a consistent number of ‘political opposites’), but he was booted for failing to display his Political Courage to the citizens and the Project. Candidates avoid the Test because the larger party organizations tell them to. Answers to the test serve as political ammunition for the opposing party. Here is what the President of PVS had to say of today’s political atmosphere:

“Understand what we do to you. We spend all of our time raising money, often from strangers we do not even know. Then we spend it in three specific ways: First we measure you, what it is you want to purchase in the political marketplace — just like Campbell’s soup or Kellogg’s cereal. Next, we hire some consultants who know how to tailor our image to fit what we sell. Lastly, we bombard you with the meaningless, issueless, emotional nonsense that is always the result. And whichever one of us does that best will win.” — Richard Kimball

For this very reason, Project Director Richard Kimball started PVS after losing to John McCain in 1986 for a senate seat in Arizona. He essentially committed political suicide after choosing not to run a smear campaign against McCain. I admired this kind of courage and realized that the motivation for PVS was just.

In early 2010, I worked as an unpaid intern at Project Vote Smart in Montana. It was an incredible experience. I had an excellent time meeting new friends, learning the basics of fly fishing, and being surrounded by wilderness. Oh, and helping to save democracy with the Project. Some other time I’ll have to tell you about the crazy event that happened on the last 7 hr stretch of a 36 hour Grey Hound bus ride; let’s just say it involved a full bus, a Native American man belligerently drunk, threats of violence, and some heroism.

At the project, I worked along side many others to help organize and create a database full of answers of how politicians would answer any question from the Test without actually doing so. You may wonder, “this sounds fishy…” or “wait, you are just making s*** up? That’s what politicians do..” but NO! By collecting the massive online database (available to anyone at any time at votesmart.org) full of public statements, interest group ratings, voting records, campaign finance records, and more, PVS aims to let the public have the raw data. The Vote Easy tool is just an extension of this data, formatted in a easily accessible and attractive format. With a few moments of exploration though, you can find the exact speech or vote or other reason why PVS inferred something about that candidate.

I urge you to explore: http://votesmart.org/