Camera couple who put the zoo into zoom
Published: 27th Mar 2015Ray and Jean Wiltshire have been visiting Paignton Zoo and taking photographs there since the 1970s. The couple, who live within earshot of the Zoo, became volunteer photographers…
Ray and Jean Wiltshire have been visiting Paignton Zoo and taking photographs there since the 1970s.
The couple, who live within earshot of the Zoo, became volunteer photographers in 2004, after staff saw one of their photos and asked if they could use it. Now they regularly donate images for the charity to keep in its photo library and to use in marketing materials.
“We’ve both lived in Torbay for many years,” says Ray. “I moved to Torbay in the ‘60s and Jean moved here with her parents in the 1950s. Jean visited the Zoo on a regular basis with her dad from the very early ‘60s. It’s changed tremendously since those early days.”
Ray worked as a grounds-keeper at Devon Coast Country Club from 1970 until 1980 and then on grounds and maintenance at the Manor House in Torquay, which was once a rehabilitation and training centre for the R.N.I.B but became a retirement village after the centre closed in 2004.
Their photography has charted life in a modern zoo over the last decade, as experts work to breed endangered species and to manage a growing collection for both conservation and the visiting public. The pair have photographed endearing new-borns, grand old matriarchs and everything in between.
Ray: “We are both keen photographers – it was film in the early days but we soon moved to digital, which makes life a lot easier. We have used most makes of camera but now have Nikon and Olympus and a number of lenses ranging from 24mm up to 600mm, all zooms apart from a 150mm macro. On odd occasions we use off-camera flash where it is safe and we occasionally set up a small LED light.”
Over the years they have taken many thousands of pictures. “Eleven years, it’s flown by. Enjoyed every minute!” says Ray. “Not only have we got favourite photos, there are animals that have left lots of treasured memories.” Here is a selection of some of their favourite images.
The photo of Asiatic lions Jamna and Indu is from 2003. “Indu is the cub in this photo - she is still at the Zoo, but now she’s the mother, as you can see in the picture of her and all four of her cubs, taken in 2012. We waited very patiently to get all four!” recalls Ray. “Midas and Jamna were fine parents and this has rubbed off on her.”
Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. Fewer than 400 survive in the wild. There are conservation breeding programmes in zoos including a European Endangered species Programme (EEP).
In 2009 Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers Tenang and Banda had their second litter of cubs. This photo of Banda and one cub – the other three are trailing behind her – shows a protective mother with a sturdy, confident cub at her heels.
“We spent many hours watching her and the cubs playing. Banda was an excellent mum and wherever she sat she took a lovely picture - we have lots!” Banda has now moved to a zoo in France and Paignton has a new female in Shakira.
The soft-focus portrait of Pertinax, boss of the Zoo’s bachelor group of Critically Endangered Western lowland gorillas, is another favourite. Ray: “This picture was taken just after Christmas on a misty, cold morning. He was waiting for his breakfast; I happened to be in the right place at the right time.” This gentle giant leads the group and when youngsters join he teaches them how to be good, sociable gorillas.
“Our fondest memory of him comes from when he used to sit in a shelter opposite the decked viewing platform. The shelter has now gone but he used to sit there for a bit of peace and quiet, away from the youngsters. Not for long though. I believe, if memory serves me right, it was Kiondo who used to come along and jump up and down on the roof of the shelter, causing soil to fall through onto Pertinax. He would brush it off quite calmly. He used to take this for so long, then he would come out and chase Kiondo. Eventually he’d come back and lie down – and sooner or later Kiondo would be back and it would start all over again!”
Tonda, a male Rothschild’s giraffe, was born in February 2010, the first baby after the devastating fire that killed three giraffes in 2006. “A firm favourite – the first of many giraffe babies.”
Black rhinos are officially listed as Critically Endangered. Zuri was born on 5th March 2007, becoming an international internet sensation thanks to BBC cameras. This picture was taken by Ray on 17th March. “The first and up to now only baby rhino to be born at Paignton Zoo. She is now a mum herself at Chester Zoo!
“We watched the live video of her being born, as I suppose many people did. The picture shows her a week or so later - and what a beauty she was. She was a very popular baby and used to draw large crowds, most taking pictures. We made an effort to see her as often as possible and have many pictures of her as she grew up. Her mother Sita was a great mum and Zuri was always by her side.”
Of the cut throat finches, Ray simply comments: “I took this picture to show the markings on their throats. They are just amazing! Bird photography is a favourite of mine and I plan to spend more time trying to add to the picture list I’ve accumulated over the years.”
Bornean orang utan Mali gave birth to Tatau in April 2013. This photo was taken in May. Tatau was the first orang utan to be born at Paignton Zoo for 16 years. “It looks as if they were posing, but in actual fact that was just a moment – another right time, right place!
“Mali is a great mum but keeps Tatau close, only letting her explore on odd occasions. Because of this she can be tricky to photograph, but us photographers are persistent and do win sometimes! This will change as Tatau gets older and a little more independent.”
Tatau’s half-sister Natalia arrived eight months later, on Sunday 22nd December. “You wait 16 years and then two come along at once! No one’s complaining, as Bornean orang utans are an Endangered species – every baby counts. Both mums and youngsters are fascinating to watch. We know – we’ve spent hours doing just that!
“Chinta is also a great mum but totally different to Mali. She is much more willing to show her baby Natalia off, it’s more a case of: “Look at my baby, great isn’t she, do you want to take a picture?” When she’s had enough she’ll turn her back on you or wander off.
“Us orang utan watchers and photographers are waiting for the times ahead as the two youngsters get a bit more independent of their respective mums and start climbing on their own - there’s going to be some great picture moments.”
The photo of Bulu is the one that means the most to the pair. “She left us with the most amazing memories. We spent many hours watching her. She had this fascination with Jean’s rings. She would shuffle over to the window and just sit and watch as Jean showed them to her. She is sorely missed.”
Bulu was put to sleep in 2008 due to illness. She was 47 - the oldest zoo bred orang in Europe at the time and the grand old dame of Paignton Zoo. She was born at London Zoo and moved to Paignton in 1992. She was named by Sir David Attenborough – Bulu means “hairy one”.
This unassuming couple has quietly supported the Zoo – a registered charity – in its work to help save some of the world’s most amazing animals. They’ll sit quietly by an enclosure for hours to get the photo they are seeking, whatever the weather.
What of the future? “Now the Zoo has Lucifer and Indu, Tenang and Shakira, so there’s a possibility of more cubs. And I know how difficult they are to breed, but cheetah cubs are one of our absolute favourites and we would love to see them at the Zoo!”
Ray is retiring later this year – which to him simply means more free time behind the camera. “Jean’s getting a little concerned I might get under her feet, so she has asked if the Zoo could give me lots of projects to do. Sounds good to me! Hopefully we will be spending many more years photographing at the Zoo and Living Coasts.”