The Myth Of The Impala Mama

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Finnish photographer Alison Buttigieg loves cats. The Internet loves cats. But these days Buttigieg hates the Internet because it’s lying about one of her cat photos.

It all started Feb. 11. Someone who knows her work as a wildlife photographer recognized a cheetah picture of hers online. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise — Buttigieg published the “remarkable” photo on her blog, Facebook and Instagram last November after it won an international award. But the flood of messages that started pouring in from strangers that day stunned her.

Titled “The Stranglehold,” this award-winning photo by Alison Buttigieg spawned a feel-good but phony Internet meme about a self-sacrificial impala. (Reprinted with permission)

An intellectual property thief had stolen her photo, invented a feel-good back-story for it, and engineered a viral sensation — one that wasn’t exactly flattering to Buttigieg. The tall tale portrayed the three cheetahs in the photo as heartless killers, their impala prey as a self-sacrificial mother and Buttigieg as a fragile soul who sank into depression after documenting a feline feast.

“In the beginning I thought it was absolutely hilarious, even the trolling,” she told me in an email interview six days after the hoax spread. “But then it was suddenly really overwhelming when I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”

A passion for wild animals and wild places
Buttigieg is an information technology consultant whose passion for animals and for wild places inspired a foray into photography. She has carried a camera on wildlife journeys around the world for 13 years and started taking the photographic aspect of her observations more seriously about four years ago.

“I see my photos as a means to spread awareness about wildlife and the need to protect them and their habitat,” she said.

Buttigieg has shot pictures on three continents — Africa, Asia and South America. Her favorite places include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, and the Massai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. In September 2013, she was near the latter location, at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, when she saw a family of cheetahs trap a lone impala.

Cats of all kinds fascinate Buttigieg because of their beauty and expressive faces. Cheetahs stand out in the felidae species for their speed, quirks and sounds. The guides at the conservancy knew she loved cheetahs, and a mother and two adolescents were near the camp during her visit.

This is how the scene unfolded as soon as her party spotted the family:

The mother cheetah spotted the impala from a distance and practically walked straight up to it. The impala didn’t even try to run away, and it did not put up a fight. Impalas are social creatures, and this one was completely alone, so I suspect it was already sick or somewhat injured.

The mother cheetah held the poor impala by the neck to let her youngsters practice their hunting skills. The impala went into shock and stood motionless like a statue while the young cheetahs proceeded to play with it. They seemed to be quite clueless as to what their mother wanted them to do. After a few minutes the mother cheetah put the impala out of its misery, and all the family enjoyed a good meal.

This kind of training exercise is actually quite common, although usually the mother teaches the youngsters by bringing live antelope fawns for them, not adults. It is crucial for the young cats to hone their skills.

Read the rest of the article at Medium.

Advertisements

Pirates In The House!

The R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, hosted a pirate-themed open house last week, and my wife and I were there with our green screen and portable photo studio to capture the creative memories.

It was not your typical wonky Washington party, but we photograph those, too. Email us at Tabula Rasa Media and we’ll shoot your event, with or without the green screen.