Wild Eyes: Photographing Wild Animals Up Close & Personal

Wild Eyes: Photographing Wild Animals Up Close & Personal

Big Brothers Big Sisters had give me a free airline ticket to anyplace they flew to, so I went on the internet to look at things to do in those various cities. I stumbled upon a place called Wild Eyes in Kalispell, MT. It was a place set up for professional photographers to go and shoot pictures of wild animals in a natural setting instead of them spending hours/days/weeks trying to find them in the wild. Those expensive, it sounded perfect since I have a great passion for animals.

While I was there, I got to interact with many animals: bobcat, lynx, wolf, grizzly bear, black bear, mountain lion and tigers. When I was shooting pictures, these animals (one at a time) were running loose in a large compound with me. Some of the animals would rub up against me…others, like the grizzly and tigers were about four feet away.

Ginger (Mountain Lion): I could hear Ginger before I could see her as the handler brought her from her enclosure to the compound. She was heavily panting. As she was walked by me (still on a leash), I was shocked at how long and thick her tail was. Ginger was happy to be out of her enclosure and let me know it by rubbing up against me and purring. I was able to pet her and feel the thickness of her fur.

Brittany (Gray Wolf): There were two wolves to choose from…a female gray wolf and a black, male wolf. The male wolf looked scary and was growling, to I asked to use Brittany (the female) for my photo shoot. Brittany was also excited to be able to run about the compound. At one point, she jumped up on me, put a paw on each shoulder, and started slurping my face. She was so tall (taller than me)! She then laid down on her back and presented her belly to me for rubs…a truly submissive action. She was so beautiful!

Milo (Pacific Northwest Bobcat): I once had a pixie-bob cat that looked very much like Milo, but about 10 pounds lighter. Milo presented his butt to me and made a chirping sound…much like he would do to another bobcat in the wild. The handler told me Milo must really like and trust me to do that. I got some really great shots of Milo…one looked like he was staring right at me and posing for the camera…what a ham!

Maye (Grizzly Bear): Mae was hysterical! Before the photo shoot, the handler had given her an emu egg for the very first time. Maye started to spin it around with her paw, checking it out. She then put too much weight on the egg and it broke, spewing egg yolk all over her paw. You would have thought she was being killed….she ran screaming into her den, the whole time shaking her paw. It was as if she was screaming “Get it off! Get it off!”. During the photo shoot, the handler was giving her treats to behave and pose. Unlike most bears, Maye didn’t like fish. So the handler was giving her a different treat…gummy bears, of all things! Well, Maye got a sugar rush after a while. First she scurried up a tree. When she came down, she flopped on her back, grabbed a low branch of a tree, and started scratching her head. Then she got up, saw a big mud puddle, ran to it, flopped down on her belly, and began making swimming motions with her legs. She reminded me of a kid playing in a puddle.

Aiden (Rare Golden Tabby Tiger): Aiden was about a year old and just learning the ropes when it came to posing for photos. He reminded me of a big house cat with pitiful little mews of protest. Because he was still being trained, I didn’t get more than a couple of feet from him, just to be on the safe side.

Lydia (Lynx): My first encounter with Lydia was during breakfast. I was eating some cereal and all of a sudden, a lynx was on the table with one foot in my bowl. She also presented her butt to me and chirped (gee, nothing like the smell of lynx butt first thing in the morning…and she was farty!). I was able to hold Lydia and play with her before the photo shoot. Just to remind you how dangerous these animals really are…even though they were raised in captivity…the handler happened to get between Lydia and a piece of meat. Lydia jumped up and almost took the handler’s face off. Luckily, she had been declawed because she was more of a pet to him. Not a practice I agree with. Apparently in Montana, one may keep bobcats, lynx and wolves as pets like any other animal (also a practice I don’t agree with).

Kaylar (Siberian Tiger): Kaylar was huge! As long as I was behind my camera, I felt safe…as if it offered me protection, so I wasn’t scared. I did keep my distance, however, and the handler had a gun with him just in case, for emergencies. Kaylar was content to lounge on the ground and groom herself.

Jewell (White Siberian Tiger): Jewell was very thin compared to Kaylar. She had blue eyes and was cross-eyed. Like a lot of white tigers, her vision was poor. Because of her thinness, I didn’t enjoy photographing her as much as the other animals.

Other animals I got to see, but didn’t take photos of:
Magic (black bear), a leopard (that even the handler didn’t trust), several other tigers, and Daniel (lion). The larger compound was flooded, so I didn’t get to take photos of Daniel, but I did get close to him…only a chain-link fence separated him and me, so I was within inches and could pet him with my fingers through the fence. He stood up on his hind legs and towered over me by several feet. His paws were the size of dinner plates. The handler gave him an emu leg to eat and Daniel looked gruesome with blood on his muzzle. I had actually met Magic three years earlier when he was a six month old cub. When he was that small, I had taken him out to hunt for huckleberries. The handler also had a  baby lynx named Hunter whose eyes opened for the first time when I was there. Talk about adorable!

Wild Eyes is now closed, but there is a similar set-up in Kalispell called the Circle K Ranch.

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