Friday, April 8, 2016


Orana Park, a wildlife facility here in Christchurch, recently acquired three male gorillas from Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  They are western lowland gorillas, endangered in their West African homeland, and are part of an international zoo-breeding program.  

The oldest, and largest, Fataki (12) is a silverback, dominant over his much smaller younger brothers, Fuzu and Mahali (7), who are nevertheless inclined to tease their elder brother.  They chase each other around the enclosure and beat their chests, hooting loudly.  In spite of these apparent displays of aggression, gorillas are generally peaceful animals unless seriously upset.  They are great fun to photograph, the challenge being to keep the building and other unnatural bits and pieces out of the image. 

It isn’t too hard to get a nice portrait, but capturing interaction between them is a little more difficult, and I don’t yet have anything I’m happy to post (watch this space).  A dark, or black subject is always challenging.  Because the jutting brows obscure the eyes I find that I have to work hard to see them clearly, but lightening ‘shadows’ in the raw file in Lightroom helps a lot.

New Zealand blue duck

The blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is an unusual duck, and a rare New Zealand endemic.  It inhabits fast flowing rivers and streams and nests on the ground, usually by the river.  So not only are eggs and ducklings vulnerable to stoat predation, but nests are frequently lost through flooding.

In 2002, a predator control program funded by Solid Energy was set up the Oparara Valley, where a few ducks survived.  The current management program is a joint effort between the Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy, and also involves local school children in rearing juvenile ducks to be released into the catchment.  From only four individuals in 2002, the population has now risen to fifty.

Blue ducks are excellent swimmers and totally at home in fast flowing water.  Their upper bill ends in a broad, fleshy, overlapping tip, which allows the duck to scrape insect larvae from rock surfaces without wearing away its bill.  The Maori name for blue duck is ‘whio’, the high-pitched whistling sound made by male ducks.  Although not easy to find, blue ducks are generally tolerant of people, and seldom fly.