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Monument Valley photo safari


By PAT CHRISTIAN

     Out here in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, mountain lions frequently chase and devour rabbits in this sea of sand and sandstone that overlaps Utah and Arizona.

     But, Ramon Redhorn, our guide never saw a big stripped cat like this one in this land he and other Navajo's call Tse' Bii' Ndzisgaii.

     Just for today,  just for photographers, a Siberian tiger is on the loose, and Ramon watches it saunter down red sand dunes as wildlife photographers' cameras click away like machine guns in a Vietnam jungle fire fight.

    The wildlife photographers are paying customers attending one of Troy Hyde's photo safaris.

     At his Animals of Montana wildlife compound outside Bozeman, he has almost every North American wild animal you can think of plus a few non-native exotics like his tigers and for this photo safari, he trailered them to Monument Valley.

     Brought along  were his mountain lions, bobcats and tigers, and Raymond had guided Troy's group to a sand dune area usually off limits to park visitors.

     "Come on Ringo, come on. Good Ringo," Hyde said, directing the huge, striped cat into better positions for his photographer clients.

     "Careful; he's stalking you," Troy warned one of his two assistants who was helping adjust the trained behaviors of the tiger.

     "Basically they're trained actors," Troy says. But he added they are still wild animals and must be respected and carefully watched.

     Asked about the unusualness of a tiger in Monument Valley, Raymond thought for a moment.

     "It's big," he said, not wasting many words, as seems the custom among many Navajo out here.

     Photographers' hands and eyes were busy focusing, trying to frame the tiger's fearful symmetry, not in the forest of the night but in red Navajo sand thousands of miles from their origins.

     They used nearly all lenses in their bags, especially the long ones, some costing as much as $10,000 each.

     So much long glass was employed, you were sure if you attached them end to end and pointed it up you might see the missing Mars probe lying broken in some dry creek bed on the Red Planet.

     Looking at the landscape, you couldn't help thinking you had seen some of the surrounding natural stone monuments in some old John Wayne movie. You probably had.

     The photographer roster looked like a who's who of wildlife photographers.

    Wildlife photographer Norbert Rosing was there. Norbert's photography has appeared in National Geographic and in books such as "Yellowstone" and "The World of the Polar Bear." He is perhaps best known for his polar bear photography, but he says next to the Arctic, he loves shooting in the American Southwest. See his work at http://www.rosing.de.

     "After I finish here, I am headed again to the Arctic," Norbert said.

     But not all those on the safari were full time professionals. A number of safari participants were passionate amateurs who are in love with wildlife and its preservation.

     Brett Hicken's work has been published in magazines and hangs on walls, but this Spanish Fork, Utah resident's day job is as deputy prosecutor for Juab County. He's the attorney for Animals of Montana's. He had also invited his college buddy, Lynn Davis, a Utah 4th District Court judge .

     During the shoot photographers shot in multiple Arizona and Utah settings with different animals.

     Among the favorites were the mountain lions, looking as if they belonged in the red rocks that rise from the desert floor.

     Many of the professional photographers said one truth of  wildlife photography is that many shots you see in magazines, books and calendars are taken on photo safaris with trained animals.

     While most at the safari shoot animals in the wild, too, some shots and animal behaviors are best captured with the help of a professional trainer like Troy getting his animals to repeat natural behaviors on cue.

    "My dad was a wildlife biologist," Troy said. Growing up in Wisconsin, he thought about following in his father's footsteps, but somehow got sidetracked into animal behavior training.

     He said as a young boy, he trained the family dog and raccoons he brought home.

     Most animals in his collection have been saved from litters left to die after poachers killed their mothers, and the babies would have been unable to survive on their own in the wild.

     But he says now they serve a purpose for still and motion photographers whose work gets published and in turn raises awareness for the protection of wildlife and its habitat.

     "I do a lot of work with Discovery and National Geographic television," he said.

     The wolves in the IMAX production "Wolf" are Troy's, and their natural behaviors in the film were directed by him.

     He said one of the most difficult animals to direct is the wolverine, and he said he's proud of his wolverine's performances in "Wolverine, the Last Phantom."

     "For the first time ever, the film shows a wolverine breeding and giving birth."

     Troy said his favorite and the smartest of all his animals is the bear.

     "You could not convince me that a grizzly bear is not smarter than an ape," he said.

     For prices for his photo tours and private shoots, check out his Internet site at http://www.animalsofmontana.com

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