Wild cats are arguably the most difficult of animals to photograph anywhere in the wild: think a mountain lion (cougar), bobcat, jaguar or leopard. Can you believe that in my 4.5 years of a full-time wildlife photography career so far, I have never - ever - seen a wild mountain lion? Those stats make it rather hard to get a decent image of one.
Unfortunately, most 'wild' cat images you see on social media, are not wild at all ... They are captive animals on so-called Game Farms where the photographer gets put in the ideal situation to photograph a cat, in an environment that looks wild.
Bobcat on the prowl, headed in my direction just before sunset
You have probably seen examples of these images: the perfect shot of a cougar cub running towards the camera, or an adult cougar beautifully jumping the red rocks of Utah against the backdrop of snowy mountain peaks.
Ethical? No. Animals on game farms are not wild, are kept in cages and are regularly mistreated. Plus, it's supposed to be wildlife photography.
All for what: the perfect picture?
Shortly after I switched my 20+ year IT career into wildlife photography and writing, I had a reality check: as any passionate photographer, I was hunting for those perfect pictures, but, coming across a wild mountain lion in the perfect setting, behaving as if you - the photographer - isn't there, simply does not happen in real life, or more accurately, in wild nature.
And photographing wild nature to document and ultimately help in its conservation is what it's all about, right?
Chance encounter with a bobcat during the cold winter months
So how do you get an image of a wild cat?
With the notable exceptions of visiting protected areas where hunting is not allowed, including some African safari destinations and Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, where it's said that every 10 square kilometers has at least one mountain lion, you'll need luck and patience.
In the United States, six wild cat species roam the landscape: Bobcat, Canadian Lynx, Mountain Lion (or Cougar or Puma), Jaguar, Jaguarundi and the Ocelot.
All are extremely skittish which is easy to understand since some humans like to hunt these beautiful creatures. For example, the estimated number of bobcats hunted and killed annually here in the U.S. is 40,000. The number of mountain lions killed each year is 3,000.
All of this to say: whenever you go on a hike in the hopes of enjoying nature and its wildlife, don't expect to see a wild cat.
I spotted this bobcat crossing a rural road on one of my outings
And this brings me to my recent encounter: a wild bobcat on the hunt.
I was out exploring an area frequented by waterfowl, a favorite food of the local predators, when I spotted movement in the tall grass. A bobcat was heading in the direction of a small creek where a couple of waterfowl was feeding.
I staid still and snapped a few quick images as the bobcat went into full stalk mode.
Stalking towards the waterfowl
I started recording video of the waterfowl, just in case the bobcat charged. Shortly after, it did with great speed.
In the below video of the encounter, the waterfowl are in the bottom right-hand corner and the bobcat is coming in from the left.
Blink and you'll miss it ...!
The hunt was unsuccessful ... at least for the bobcat, I considered mine a success!
After the hunt fiasco, the bobcat spent several minutes drying itself. It reminded me of my house cats: they hate to get wet too!
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