Had our very first meet-up of photographers who enjoy taking shots at the San Diego Zoo and posting their photos on Flickr, where I also created a group for us. I arrived at the Zoo a bit early so I could get together with Rick Schwartz, the Zoo’s Ambassador, and talk to him about where I can take the group for a personal presentation and photo-op of an animal, something he and I set up ahead of time as a surprise for the other photographers. I met him over at the Children’s Zoo after I watched a meerkat named Matata being taken for a walk on a leash by her handler Maya, who would later end up also being a presenter for our meet-up.
After talking to Maya for a while about Matata, Rick and I walked back to the espresso stand, the planned meeting spot near the entrance, to wait for the other photographers to arrive, none of whom I’d met before except for my regular zoo photo friend, Heather. By 9:30 they had all arrived except for Matt, the Zoo’s social media planner, who, as I would later find out, unfortunately wasn’t feeling well. Our group included Heather, Ion, Penny and her husband Nick, Mollie, Nathan, Deric and his wife, Patricia, and myself. Pretty good turnout for a bunch of online friends/real-life strangers.
After all the introductions were made, Rick had to leave for another short VIP presentation, so the rest of us talked amongst ourselves until about 9:50, when I led the group back to the Children’s Zoo for our surprise photo-op with Rick. On our way there we stopped briefly to take some shots of a mother duck leading her six tiny chicks across a busy walkway.
Once inside the back part of the Children’s Zoo, we waited just a short time before Rick and another keeper named Katie brought out Isa, a rambunctious male Fossa who was in quite the playful mood. He kept trying to bite Rick’s thumbs while he was giving us information and answering questions about Isa. Because of his energetic, early morning playfulness we had about ten minutes to take closeups of Isa before he had to be taken back into his enclosure. I thought we were done with the photo-op but then Rick surprised even me by telling us to walk over to the Clark Theater where he would also bring out a bird for us to see.
We headed over to the little theater area while Rick went back to clean up before bringing out the next animal model. While waiting we were being entertained by Sam, a blue-colored Hyacinth Macaw, who had flown down from his perch and was walking around on the ground until keeper Katie came out to take him back.
Shortly thereafter, Rick came out with a beautiful little Pygmy Falcon. He talked to us for about five minutes, with all of us snapping dozens of shots. Then Maya, the keeper who earlier was walking Matata the Meerkat, came out with a brightly colored Cardinal Lory named Clifford. This was also about a five-minute presentation with lots of picture taking. Once everything was done I gave Rick a large bag of plain m&m’s as a thank you for him taking some time to meet with us.
The group of us photogs then decided to head down to get some shots of the three recently introduced and critically endangered Amur Leopard siblings. After a few minutes of intense picture-taking we headed over to the Malayan Tigers to watch them get fed. Deric and I stopped along the way to say hi to a couple of curious Babirusa. At the Tigers we met up with another photographer who gave us his card for possibly meeting up elsewhere at a later date.
Heather and I then decided to have lunch so we said our goodbyes to the group and walked back toward the entrance to eat at the Front Street Cafe & Cantina. By pure coincidence we ended up running into Rick again who was on his lunch break so he joined us. The three of us had a really good chat about all things Zoo.
This initial photo meet-up turned out much better than I was hoping for, thanks in no small part to the extreme generosity of keepers Rick, Katie and Maya as well as to the friendliness of the rest of the group. I’m already really looking forward to our next one.
( m e e t – u p p i c s )