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These Captivating Portraits of Big Cats Tell Some Stories

 Not many of us are fortunate enough to observe wild animals up close. It has often been said that watching a wild animal at close quarters and noting the different facets of its behavior can be an experience to savor. Thankfully, British fashion photographer Ralph Perou has given us the next best thing.
The noted photographer set up his studio in an enclosure at the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent and shot 7 of the prominent big cats there as if they were celebrities. According to Ralph, he wanted to raise awareness about the vulnerability of the big cats in the wild through this project. He photographed the animals for over a year in an enclosure where he had set up a makeshift studio. His effort was to capture the myriad moods and emotions of the big cats from a close range.
Ralph felt that the big cats had no pretense while being photographed, unlike actors, celebrities and models; they would let the photographer know exactly what they felt about him. Here are some shots from Ralph Perou’s extensive big cat portraits.

#1. Maya, the Black Jaguar 

Big Cat Portraits jaguar
Maya the jaguar was born in July 2017 and was bought to the Big Cat Sanctuary when she was just 5 days old. Sadly, she almost didn’t survive as her mother couldn’t feed her. She was severely dehydrated and weak and eventually the decision was taken to hand-rear her.
Big Cat Portraits jaguar
Ralph Perou spent plenty of time with Maya and grew extremely fond of her. She is an intelligent, confident and affectionate character, he claims. Perou observed that Maya really enjoys human interaction and was not easy to shoot as she would often begin rubbing her body against the fence so as to let them know she wants someone to scratch her. 
Big Cat Portraits jaguarOf all the big cats, jaguars have the strongest bite and they are also excellent swimmers, much like tigers.
 

#2. Narnia, the white tiger

Big Cat Portraits white tiger
Born in a French circus, Narnia (love the name) found her initial home at Paradise Wildlife Park in England. She was bought there as a partner for their resident Amur tiger, Rocky. However, the two couldn’t live together and Narnia was eventually brought to The Big Cat Sanctuary in England.
Big Cat Portraits white tiger
An active and mischievous cat, Narnia has become a favorite with the crowd here because of her attractive white coating. According to Ralph, she loves posing for the camera and often plays tug of war with her food.

Narnia has also become an ambassador in spreading awareness among the public about the perils of breeding white tigers and the health deficiencies that can happen to them because of it.
 

#3. Xizi, the Amur leopard

Big Cat Portraits Amur leopard
Born at Helsinki zoo in Finland in 2005, Xizi the Amur leopard was brought to the Big Cat Sanctuary in 2007 when she was about 2 years old. She has given birth to two sets of two cubs ever since she has arrived here and is an active and healthy cat.
Big Cat Portraits Amur leopard
Xizi has a distinctive heart-shaped marking behind her left eye that makes her easy to recognize. 
Big Cat Portraits Amur leopard
It is estimated that fewer than 60 Amur leopards are left in the wild. This makes them one of the world’s most endangered cats in the world. Amur leopards are very rarely spotted in the wild and are a solitary animal, much like other leopards. 
 

#4. Keene, the cheetah

Big Cat Portraits cheetah
Keene, the cheetah, was born as one of a litter of 8 at Boras Zoo in Sweden. He was the eldest of his siblings and all of them used to share their enclosure with the zoo’s rhinos. Later on, Keene and two of his siblings went on to become a part of The Big Cat Sanctuary.
Big Cat Portraits cheetah
Keene's spots are distinctively dark which makes him easily stand out. He is reportedly also extremely naughty and always active. During training, he gets easily distracted and indulges in frequent mischief. 
Cheetahs are often mistaken for leopards but have a very different body shape. They have long, slender limbs and a lightweight body that allows them to run fast. 
 

#5. Bajrami, the cheetah

Big Cat Portraits cheetah
Brother of Keene, Bajrami is a gorgeous specimen and is recognized easily by his generous tuft of hair behind his head. Bajrami is a sprightly and friendly cat and doesn’t mind posing for photographs. 
Big Cat Portraits cheetah
At present, the cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal, reaching speeds of up to 68 mph (109 kph) with a stride of 23 feet (7 meters). When the cheetah reaches top speed, its body is completely off the ground two times while in stride.
 

#6. Nias, the Sumatran tiger

Big Cat Portraits Sumatran tiger
The Sumatran tiger, Nias was born at Tierpark Berlin, a zoo in Germany, in 2003. He arrived at The Big Cat Sanctuary when he was a year old and was made the breeding partner for their resident Sumatran tigress, Puna, in late 2007. 
Big Cat Portraits Sumatran tiger
Nias has produced two sets of offspring so far with Puna: two boys, Asu and Bawa, in 2008 and two more male cubs, Toba and Kubu, in 2011.
Big Cat Portraits Sumatran tiger
A large and handsome specimen, Nias is known to have an aversion towards summer heat. However, he relishes the occasional hosepipe showers from the keepers during the summer months. 
Big Cat Portraits Sumatran tiger

The Sumatran tiger has distinctive deep orange fur along with fine close-packed stripes. In the tiger subspecies, the Sumatran tiger is considered to be the smallest. Native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, this tiger sub-species is facing a population threat today due to deforestation.

 

#7. Manzi, the African lion

Big Cat Portraits African lion
Manzi was born along with two other lion cubs at Woburn Safari Park in England. Unfortunately, their mother couldn’t feed them as her milk production had stopped. At 19 days old, Manzi, along with his brothers, was hand-reared by keepers in the Paradise Wildlife Park. Manzi and his brothers were later brought to The Big Cat Sanctuary.
Big Cat Portraits African lion
When he was 9 years old, Manzi had an altercation with one of his brothers, Kafara. This resulted in a vicious fight and left a mark on Manzi. The two brothers were then separated and Manzi now lives alone.
Big Cat Portraits African lion
Manzi is the gutsiest of his brothers but is also considered to be soft at heart. His mane has now turned a shade of blonde. This is because he now lives alone and has no dominance issues.
 
While these photographs do give us a wonderfully close look at the myriad behaviors of these big cats, it is also important to realize the motive behind them. These big cats are precious and are endangered in the wild today; suffering because of human greed. It is essential to raise awareness about their vulnerabilities in the wild and ensure that they have a safe future.
 
Photos source: Ralph Perou
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