Wild dogs and cats – my crazy project
I have photographed wildlife all around the world for years. Then the pandemic kept me (like most of us) under virtual house arrest for a while. During this period, I conceived a project to photograph each the species of wild cat and dog in the world. Which I know is crazy ambitious, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. When I finish, I will put the photos in a book. It isn’t an urgent quest, but at the same time I want to complete it before I am too feeble to ride in the back of a safari vehicle.
Of course, some of the species are incredibly rare – like the Borneo bay cat, for example – so I am unlikely to get them. Others are not that hard to see if you can get to where they live – the Ethiopian wolf is a good example. If you go to where they live, you’ll probably see them, but Ethiopia currently has a political crisis/war, which seems to be trending toward calming down but hasn’t yet. If wait for perfection I will never finish the project. At some point I will call it good if I get to a critical mass of sightings. I am not sure what critical mass means yet – I’ll have to see as I go along. Although I prefer seeing the animals in person, a camera trap also works.
Another factor is that there is a constant battle among the taxonomists who classify species between the “lumpers” who want to lump closely related subspecies together, and “splitters” who want to give full species-hood to sub-species or variations. The total number of dog species by some accounts is 33, of which about 23 are foxes, and about 40 species of wild cats. But that can change at any time. Much of the recent splitting comes from genetic testing – for example the Oncilla was split into Northern and Southern species – but they are visually identical. The Pampas cat was split into three species – again not distinguished visibly. There doesn’t seem to be much point in having photographs of “different” species that are not visually different, especially when they are hard to find, so I will likely decide to represent such close relatives with a single member.
Similarly, I doubt that I will be able to get all of the subspecies. For the Gray Wolf, it happens I have the North American version, and oddly I got great Red Wolf shots last year. I have seen the super rare Indian Wolf, but didn’t get a photo. Getting all of the different Gray Wolf subspecies would probably make the project too hard.
I want to see these and photograph them in the wild, and I want to use my own photos, but when it finally comes to put a book together I may use photos of captive animals and possibly photos from other people. Even if I don’t get see a Borneo Bay Cat, or the Short Eared Dog, I probably won’t omit them from the book. I plan to include some natural history info in the book so it won’t just be pictures.
On a case by case basis I think I will include some of the feliniforms – Hyena are neither a dog nor a cat, but are a feliniform and besides, there are only 4 species, most of which I already have photos of, so they are easy to add. Similarly, I will have a section on civets and genets, because they are often referred to as being cat-like. But I won’t try to systematically cover all carnivores because they are just too many.
It helps that I have a bunch of the cats and dogs done already from previous trips, so I am not starting from scratch. I’ve got close to half of the wild dogs, and a have good start on the cats – especially the large ones. However there are a lot of small cats, and they all seem to like to hide and be stealthy.
I am telling you all this because I have found that success in seeing animals is partly about patience and technique but largely about going to the right place. There are Puma in Washington State where I live – even one sighted in my suburban neighborhood. But it would be essentially impossible to get photos as good as I got in Chilean Patagonia. It’s the right place to go if you are serious about a Puma photo. There are bobcat that visit my backyard on occasion, but I suspect that Point Reyes will get me better photos. Similarly, I am planning a trip to the Pantanal for Jaguar.
For a big, famous animal like a Jaguar it’s often the case that people have already figured out the best places to see them, and created infrastructure so you can find somewhere to stay, and even a guide that can help find them. But that tends not to be true for some of the smaller species. Sometimes – like the wildlife lodges in Sabah like Tabin or Deramakot I visited recently – enough mammal fanatics (a lot thanks to this site!) have made the trip that there are lodges and guides that know all the small mammal species and are used to requests to find them. But for a lot of my list that isn’t the case, or anyway, I haven’t heard of the places.
For example, I have seen Kit Fox in the Southwestern US many times, but don’t have good, close photos. It is possible to see them many places but the density is low. There is probably some place – maybe in a national or state park – where they are at least somewhat habituated and the density is high enough that it is possible to see them with reasonable reliability. But it probably also isn’t famous enough for that information to have spread out beyond the local area. Small mammals are considered incidental – you might go to a destination to see big mammals (elk, moose, bears) – but there are few enough people that would go just to see a small mammal – or that is the perception so that means there isn’t much available information.
I am posting this to solicit comments – any comments are welcome – but I am particularly interested in suggestions of the best place to go to see wild dogs and cats. I am happy to hear about any such place – even for species I already have a photo of, one can always get a better photo.
Within the US, besides the Kit Fox, the Swift Fox is another one that I need to find a good location. Even more common animals like Gray Wolf, Coyote, Gray Fox would be good to get more photos of.
In the UK there are places you can see foxes in an urban setting. That would be a cool angle – but where to go?
Further afield, there are a lot of cats and dogs where the information on where to see them is even more scarce than they are. So any suggestions would be good.