The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a large, flightless bird, in the ratite group, second in size only to the ostrich (found in Africa). Native to Australia, the emu’s closest relative is the much more rare, and colorful cassowary. New Zealand’s kiwi is another, slightly more distant, relative.
A few emus are farmed in New Zealand, but we also have an opportunity to see them in captivity at our local wildlife park. The ones that I have photographed are at Orana Park, in Christchurch. The emu is not endangered, so there is no rearing program for them here, nor are they likely to be the subject of a research project. They are kept at the park so that people can observe them behaving naturally in an outdoor, semi-wild environment.
The birds often pace up and down along the fence line emitting a booming sound. It is mostly the females that produce this noise, while males make a grunting sound. An inflatable throat pouch creates the booming, which if emitted at high intensity, may be heard up to 2 kilometres away.
On hot days the staff turn on a hose to create a temporary pool in their enclosure, which the emus use for bathing. They sit in the pool, immersing their feathers, then stand up and shake off the water. Although they can’t fly, emus can run very fast. They have powerful beaks, so visitors need to be wary of getting too close to the wire. In the wild, they should not be approached, as powerful legs and feet can inflict a damaging kick.
Emus’ soft feathers are very attractive, so it can be tempting to stroke them. However, this is probably not an impulse to give in to!
Orana Park, a wildlife facility here in Christchurch, recently acquired three male gorillas from Taronga Zoo in Sydney. They are western lowland gorillas, endangered in their West African homeland, and are part of an international zoo-breeding program.
The oldest, and largest, Fataki (12) is a silverback, dominant over his much smaller younger brothers, Fuzu and Mahali (7), who are nevertheless inclined to tease their elder brother. They chase each other around the enclosure and beat their chests, hooting loudly. In spite of these apparent displays of aggression, gorillas are generally peaceful animals unless seriously upset. They are great fun to photograph, the challenge being to keep the building and other unnatural bits and pieces out of the image.
It isn’t too hard to get a nice portrait, but capturing interaction between them is a little more difficult, and I don’t yet have anything I’m happy to post (watch this space). A dark, or black subject is always challenging. Because the jutting brows obscure the eyes I find that I have to work hard to see them clearly, but lightening ‘shadows’ in the raw file in Lightroom helps a lot.
Practicing the skills of photographing mammals
Nature photography is one of my passions, and my favourite photographic subjects are mammals. I say ‘mammals’ rather than ‘animals’ because I really do mean that, and don’t include birds, reptiles, insects, etc, which are all members of the animal kingdom. This may seem an odd preference for someone living in New Zealand where there are almost no native mammals. We have just two species of bats, and I have never even attempted to photograph these. They are not very common, nocturnal, and fast! We do have a number of introduced species that are established in the wild, but somehow they don’t interest me so much.
For me, then, opportunities to photograph mammals in the wild are restricted to trips overseas. I spend about 3 months each year camping and hiking in the western USA, and have visited other countries too. However, to improve my success rate in the wild, I practice on captive mammals, especially in wildlife parks and zoos that keep their mammals in natural-looking surroundings. Here in Christchurch, we have Orana Park, and the Willowbank Reserve. Both these places allow most of their larger animals, at least, to wander through outdoor areas that are visible to the public without the impediment of obtrusive fences and other man-made structures. So I try to make images of these captive mammals that look as natural as possible.