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Eagle Eye

Peripatetic nature photographer Art Wolfe sets his gear down for a lecture at the St. Louis Zoo


Art Wolfe has published about 40 photography books on nature and wildlife. Over the past 25 years, he has focused his camera on primates, big cats, horses, birds, whales, chameleons and most any other animal you can name. The icing on the cake was the 2000 publication of his thick coffee-table opus The Living Wild, for which he spent three years traipsing through 50 countries and each of the planet's seven types of biomes, taking dramatic shots of a huge diversity of animals and their surroundings.

Here are some of Wolfe's observations:

On photographing dangerous animals: "During the production of The Living Wild, we were down in the jungles of Nepal and we were photographing the great one-horned Indian rhino, which is the largest of the rhino species. I wasn't informed how aggressive they were, nor did I have the time to research each and every animal we went after on this project, and we found out in very short order how aggressive they were -- had it not been for a single large tree, we would have definitely been annihilated. This animal and its full-grown calf spent five minutes trying to gore us to death, and we kept moving around this tree as these rhinos were coming in. That was a very scary moment, quite honestly. We had two guides that had walking sticks that kept bonking these rhinos on the head, and finally one landed a very solid smack to the head, and it just stunned the animal enough that it broke off the charge, and the rhino ran off in the opposite direction."

On taking photographs a few years ago at the St. Louis Zoo: "I was working on a book called Wildcats of the World, and at the St. Louis Zoo there was an amur leopard, and that was one of few zoos that had that subspecies of leopard in captivity."

On the one that got away: "Going after the snow leopard, we really tried for three different trips. That means flying from Seattle to Tokyo to Beijing on to Ulan Bator and going out into the wilds of Mongolia on three different occasions, and we spent at least one or two weeks during each one looking for the snow leopard. That took a lot of resolve to do, and we were unsuccessful ... that would have been in the book [The Living Wild]."

On responsible stewardship: "I know it's not just myself, but my colleagues are feeling an obligation that we need to be doing this. It's not just merely making a living off the natural world but returning the favor and trying to make people aware of what's at risk. Certainly under the new administration I feel it's even more of a compelling drive, because I think we're lagging behind in our curtailing of greenhouse gases, and I'm embarrassed by that. I think European countries are really showing the way, and we're so resistant to jeopardizing any bit of our economy to making our planet more healthy."

On the worst smell of all time: "Dead elephant, and it was very recent. The smell was so awful and I was in Africa just about three weeks ago ... it was such a large animal, and the way the road that passed it went, it was constantly blowing on us for a while. I can put up with a lot of sulfurous smells from volcanoes and all that, but, boy, a dead animal is really an unattractive smell."

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