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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September

I have devoted years to photographing animals that can only survive in wild and remote regions. Above all my love and admiration for large cats has dominated my life, my work, and even my dreams for seven years. Only when I became involved in the lives of these matchless creatures who consume only what they need without harming nature in any way did I understand the true meaning of loving animals. In the course of my work I have met people who devoted their entire lives to making life easier for a single lion, without expecting anything in return. I have seen people whose passion for tigers prompted them to abandon their homes and countries to live in the jungle. These seem to me to have more meaning that many other lives. My concept of loving animals gradually changed after each photo safari. It was such a marvellous experience to come face to face with such exceptional animals.

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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September

My admiration for domestic cats first inspired my search for large cats, and I ended up travelling not to take photographs, but just for the joy of being there and seeing them. The photographs became a secondary pursuit, serving only to share what I saw with the rest of the world. I have learnt much from these animals in experiencing the privilege of proximity to them. As well as envy and admiration, I have learnt to feel respect for all of them. I have seen that they demand no more living space than they need, that they do not attack another animal unless they are hungry, that they never pretend, and that far from damaging their environment they preserve the natural balance. From them I have also learnt patience. While in search of an animal I have learnt to renew my hopes every moment of every day. I have read studies of their behaviour and, combining this with my experience in the wild, have gained the knowledge needed to seek them out.

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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September
In Africa they say that a good tracker becomes the animal itself, and so is enabled to find it. Equipped with knowledge and instinct I became a good tracker and so able to observe them. Of the seven surviving species of large cat I have photographed the Bengal tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah. My interest in tigers became a passion from the first moment that I encountered them face to face. A Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) can expect to live for 15-16 years in the wild and the male weighs up to 260 kilograms. When one of these outstanding animals looks at me from a distance of a few metres with its yellow eyes it makes me feel how unimportant I am.
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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September

African lions (Panthera leo) are the most sociable of the large cats and live and hunt in large packs known as prides. Like all wild cats their behaviour can vary according to their environment. Lions generally sleep through the day and get ready to hunt when the air cools.
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is small compared to the tiger, lion or cheetah. It varies in weight between 28 and 70 kilograms and has a lifespan in the wild of 11-15 years. All its movements possess the perfection of a trained performance. Leopards are harder to find than any of the other large African cats. Unlike other species the leopard will hunt for pleasure even when it is not hungry. When resting, particularly after the hunt is over, it prefers to climb into the branches of a tree.

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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the only cat species with brown eyes, all the others having eyes that are pale in colour. It weighs 40-65 kilograms and has a life-span in the wild of 10-12 years. It is the fastest moving land animal, capable of reaching a speed of 70 kilometres an hour in 2 seconds, and with a maximum sprinting speed of 100-127 kilometres an hour, which it can keep up for 200-600 metres when in pursuit of prey. Cheetahs are active throughout the day, particularly early in the morning, early in the evening, and on moonlit nights. Their movements are virtually silent and they usually hunt alone, although occasionally the males hunt in packs. In this case one attacks while the rest fend off attackers. In Namibia, in particular, leopards have developed pack hunting to an unprecedented extent, probably in response to the geographical characteristics of this region..
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Tracking down large cats
2002 / September
When seeking large cats it is essential to get to know about the other animals which share the same area. Therefore, on all my journeys I have photographed many other animals besides large cats. Nature photography is a fascinating activity, but extremely demanding. For anyone who loves nature and animals physical exhaustion is of no consequence, but you have to be prepared to face long and seemingly unending journeys, the risk of accidents and tropical fevers in wildernesses where no doctors or medicines are available, and sometimes running out of food. Worst of all are the sleepless nights before you set out spent worrying whether you will actually find a tiger at all.

* Süha Derbent is a photographer.
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