doc big studio

Big cats turn on the feline flair for daring photo shoot

By Telegraph:

Baby Leopards at Big Cat StudioPhoto shoots are usually the preserve of fashionistas and celebrities - but these are sleek and slinky posers of a different kind.

Lions, tigers and leopards are among those shown playing up to the camera in these extraordinary photographs of dangerous big cats taken inside a specially-constructed studio.

And, unsurprisingly, given their size there was an added frisson to the project.

'It was a most memorable experience to be part of and not totally without fear,' said Barry Bland, the British photographer who took the pictures.

The images were all taken at The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) in South Carolina in the U.S. over a year and put into a new book titled 'Big Cat Studio'.

Lion at Big Cat StudiosBeginning in autumn last year and taken over 24 sessions, the mesmerising collection shows some of the rarest big cats up close and personal in a way that most people never get the chance to see.

Dr Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle, the director and founder of TIGERS, said the key to getting the intimate photographs was the skill of the cat handlers.

'These cats have been with my dedicated team since birth and their intuitive knowledge of their behaviour was essential to the photographic shoot,' he said.

'My son Cody who's 20 and my 15-year-old daughter Tawny Sky have been in close contact with tigers and big cats since they were kids and were involved too.'

Photographed in a former elephant enclosure which forms part of Dr Antle's TIGERS preserve, the big cats were encouraged to play up for the camera in a variety of ways.

Baby Lion at Big Cat Studio The big cats are all aged between three weeks and 28 years - and the age difference only added to the challenges presented by the shoot. 'With cats of different ages, a mix of methods were needed to help get that perfect look,' explained Doc.

'We use pieces of meat to excite and to act as treats, as well as large stuffed toys and even feather boas, which the cats find amusing. 'But the most important aspect is the well-being of the animals. They need regular breaks and lunch to keep them calm.

'One of the benefits of shooting at our own preserve is that the animals are completely comfortable within their own surroundings. 'This makes for a better shoot.'

It is a set of guidelines that may not be out of place at a normal fashion shoot. Big Cat Studio represents the intricate variety within the big cat family, from small South American ocelot's to impressive Royal White tigers.

Tiger at Big Cat Studios'It is my team of China York, 28, Moksha Bybee, 30 and Rajani Freente, 38, who made this possible,' said Doc. 'They are tuned into the cats' moods and of course how that is judged is crucial.

'It is important for them to make the cats as relaxed as possible.' With part of the proceeds from the book going to help the conservation work Doc does in preventing the decline in population of big cats, 'Big Cat Studio' has a serious side too.

'I was recently at a charity event held by the Cheetah Outreach Programme in Manhattan,' said Doc. 'Cheetah Outreach is a drive to protect populations of the speedy cat through education and conservation.

'The reaction to the book has been hugely positive as we try to promote ecology and conservation of these animals.'