Wildlife photography: It’s something that I’ve long had an interest in and grab every single opportunity that comes my way to dabble in it.  Despite having  numerous opportunities to spot wildlife in the wild, here in South Africa – nothing beats going to a zoo for a close up.  Here, at Edinburgh Zoo, I was surprised at how few African animals there were – not that I am complaining!  A lot of the animals seemed to be of Asian and South American in origin, which was a real bonus.

There were, however, some zebras – Grevy’s Zebras to be exact.  Far from the traditional savannah grasslands setting, their quivering (or should that be shivering?) stripes do not need to confuse any hungry lions here.  Who knew that they would blend so well against the Scottish skyline with a few silhouetted winter trees on a cold and grey winter’s day?

Shivering Zebras

Shivering Zebras

Normally, I don’t like zoos much. Many of them are in a lamentable condition with animals cooped up in enclosures far too small.  On the other hand, there are also plenty of top-notch zoos that if they were not to exist, many species would be closer to extinction than they currently are.  It’s in these great zoos that we get to appreciate the diversity of this world and press our noses up against the window to peer at strange and curious creatures that we would otherwise never, ever see.

Double-Wattled Cassowary

Double-Wattled Cassowary

Smudges on the glass do nothing for photography, by the way.  Next time, I’m taking window wipes ;)

At Edinburgh Zoo, on perhaps one of the chilliest days of our two-week stay over the Christmas holidays, it wasn’t just the physical barriers that the kept the animals separated from us humans that was causing me disappointment in my photographic endeavours.  The leaden grey skies cast a dreary gloom over the outside enclosures, forcing many a wise animal to stay in the warmth of indoors.  If the outside light wasn’t bad enough, the inside light was terrible.  Not terrible for the animals I’m sure; it’s hibernating time for many – a sensible way to pass the cold snap.  I cranked up the ISO and asked all the birds and animals if they could just sit still for slightly longer than the usual split-second, …please

Some were more obliging than others, and they are now rewarded by having their portraits plastered all over the web for you to enjoy :)

For the birds, I’ve gone for slightly more curious shots – focusing on their plumage. (That’s another way of saying that full-body shots turned out to be rather rubbish…)

Flamingo tail-feathers

Flamingo tail-feathers

I’ve never thought Turkeys to be particularly beautiful birds, on any account, but I may have to revise my opinions after seeing the colourful feathers of the Ocellated Turkey.  Not quite Peacock beautiful, but impressive enough.

Ocellated Turkey feathers

Ocellated Turkey feathers

And now for my favourite of all the birds – the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.  What a name!

I’m wondering with all those feathers around where, I presume, the beak to be – if these birds don’t also suffer the same “food-stuck-in-their-moustache” problems as some bearded humans?

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

One of the most critically endangered sub-species of Leopard is the Amur Leopard from the Siberian region.  It is estimated that there were only 14-20 adults surviving in the wild during 2007.  I dare not think what that number might be now, at the beginning of 2013.

Spotting leopards in the wilds of South Africa has left me thoroughly frustrated – I’ve yet to see one close-up enough for a decent trophy shot (photograph, that is).  I was terribly grateful to see not one, but two of these beautiful big cats through reasonably clean glass windows.  The female Amur Leopard looked straight at me with her bright eyes.

Amur Leopard

Amur Leopard

However, she was not so entranced with me as I was with her…

Disinterested Amur Leopard

Disinterested Amur Leopard

It wasn’t just the zebra’s and I feeling the chill in the air – this Chimpanzee was looking decidedly unimpressed with her Scottish surroundings.

Cold Chimp

Cold Chimp

Some of the older generation seemed less perturbed and more resigned to it all.

Old Chimps

Old Chimps

In a brightly painted room, reminiscent of its Queensland homeland, one little Koala was all huddled up having a snooze.  Believe it or not, the other Koala was fully awake and feasting on some luscious eucalyptus.  These little “bears” can sure move around when they want to.

Koala

Koala

Whilst Koalas are not really bears, the Sun Bears are most definitely.  I’m afraid I don’t find these bears to be particularly cuddly looking, at all – and by all accounts these are quite vicious.  This one’s brows are furrowed in a way I’m sure I’ve seen on the faces of a few Rugby Props just before scrumming…

Sun Bear

Sun Bear

We quickly move on to the principal reason for going to the zoo in the first place – to see the Giant Pandas: Sunshine and Sweetie.  My sister and I had been talking for months about how we wanted to see them, but made a pact that we would wait for my two step-daughters to visit before we could all go and marvel at them together.  With the two Pink Tornadoes all wrapped up against the bitter Scottish elements on their first of, hopefully, many visits to the UK, we all eagerly hopped up and down, partly due to excitement and partly to keep warm, in the queue to see the pandas.

All visitors wishing to see them must book a designated time slot, which lasts a mere 10 minutes.  The indoor viewing room is pretty small and if too many people try and cram in there then the viewing experience would be pretty horrendous.   We had overheard other visitors around and about the zoo remarking on how active the pandas had been earlier in the day, but by the time it came to our appointment at 2pm it turned out that they needed a bit of a nap…

Snoozing Sweetie

Snoozing Sweetie

Sweetie (Tian Tian) was in full snooze mode on her platform and Sunshine (Yang Guang) was nowhere to be seen.

It being winter meant that there weren’t quite so many visitors to the zoo as there would be during summer, so we got the opportunity to return to view the pandas later in the afternoon.

Sweetie still in "Nap Mode"

Sweetie still in “Nap Mode”

Sweetie was still napping – hiding out behind her stash of bamboo, but Sunshine broke through from the shelter of his private quarters to indulge us with some panda play.

Yang Guang snacking

Yang Guang snacking

Giant Panda teeth

Giant Panda teeth

Hello Sunshine!

Hello Sunshine!

After watching this little fella (surprisingly smaller than the “giant” I was imagining), I now totally get the characterisation of Kung-Fu Panda… :)