The Big Cats of Woburn

There are some things in my life that, no matter how great, just take me time to deal with. This post is a great example of that. For ’twas Christmas 2011 when my wife got me a safari photography day at Woburn Safari Park. It was ten months before I finally arranged to go on the trip, in October 2012. It wasn’t until October 2013 that I finally sat down to edit all of the images properly (although I did cheat and edit a couple ahead of the pack earlier this year). And now here we are in November, and I’m finally posting them, almost two years after my wife originally gave me the gift.

There were about half a dozen of us on the trip, being escorted around the park in a couple of jeeps, with a slight Jurassic Park vibe. This being a properly sanctioned trip, we were able to be taken off of the main roads, where the public don’t normally wander, and with it get closer to the animals than the general public, as well as getting angles they’d not normally see. The first big cat we came across was this sleepy tiger.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm

My cats sleep like that all the time. Head down, but still keeping an eye on everything. I love how expressive this tiger’s eyes are.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm

It was a little disappointing that it was sheltering in the longish grass, against a very British-looking hedge, on what was also a grey, rainy day. It means these images aren’t exactly recollecting the Serengeti.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, 150mm
1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, 150mm

I have played about with the white balance a bit with these images, adding a bit of warmth to them to stop them feeling too cold.

Of course, as often happens when photographing animals, we were spotted.

1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 250, 300mm
1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 250, 300mm

Perhaps the more famous big cats of Woburn are the lions. Quite a big area of the park is given over to their enclosure, and there’s quite a few of them living in there. So it is perhaps unsurprising that we were spotted pretty quickly.

1/200sec, f/5, ISO 250, 165mm
1/200sec, f/5, ISO 250, 165mm

The lions had clearly been recently fed; there was the headless carcass of some animal or other (I’m not great at identifying species at the best of times, let alone one without a key identifying feature) that they were nibbling on from time to time.

1/200sec, f/5, ISO 250, 140mm
1/200sec, f/5, ISO 250, 140mm

Although the lions didn’t kill it, one of them was clearly still proud of the victory over a weaker animal.

1/320sec, f/4.5, ISO 250, 115mm
1/320sec, f/4.5, ISO 250, 115mm

Unfortunately I still had the issue that this clearly wasn’t the native homeland of the lions. Any time I got too much background in the shot you can see it is clearly England.

1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 320, 100mm
1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 320, 100mm

At Woburn there’s only one dominant male; the others are castrated to keep fights down and ensure the status quo. The pride leader, however, was new, and was being kept separate before being introduced to the rest of the pride. As a result, none of the lions I photographed had a mane, so I can’t really tell the males from the females. I think this one is a male, but feel free to correct me if you’re more au fait with lions than me.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 235mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 235mm

With the position we found ourselves in, shooting out of the open windows of a 4×4, we were able to to get really close to the lions. And that was without pushing my telephoto to its limits.

1/125sec, f/5, ISO 320, 220mm
1/125sec, f/5, ISO 320, 220mm

When I pushed it all the way, I got really close.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, 300mm

In another part of the enclosure, the lions were a little more relaxed.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 1600, 180mm
1/250sec, f/5, ISO 1600, 180mm
1/400sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250, 130mm
1/400sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250, 130mm

They weren’t all layabouts, of course. This lion was keen on sitting proudly, lording it over the other lions. I guess he’s no longer doing this, as the new pride leader should have been introduced to them by now and should be running the show.

1/320sec, f/5, ISO 1250, 225mm
1/320sec, f/5, ISO 1250, 225mm

I continue to love the fact that cats are cats, no matter the size. My cats often sit down giving me this sort of look.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 300mm
1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 300mm

‘Don’t even talk to me.’

1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 500, 70mm
1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 500, 70mm

The lions don’t just sulk like domestic cats. They play like them too.

1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 500, 105mm
1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 500, 105mm

They also are about as disinterested as felis domesticus.

1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 500, 280mm
1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 500, 280mm

This final image has been the desktop image on my iMac for most of the year.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 500, 235mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 500, 235mm

I love the green and yellow of these images of the lions. The colours came out pretty well considering the greyness of the day.

It turns out the only big cats at Woburn are tigers and lions. I should’ve thought about that before promising so much with this post’s title.

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Related Posts:

The Hawk Conservancy
The London Aquarium
Back to Bushy Park

2 Comments

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  1. Great pics – what a brilliant experience to be able to get that close. It may look very English, but love the colour of those ferns.

    Like

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