Not everyone has what it takes to be a model, but wildlife photographers face a different problem entirely—their subjects don’t even know they’re posing. As such, sometimes the experts behind the camera need to employ some tricks of the trade, and as National Geographic reveals in the video below, that sometimes means pulling out a pricey fragrance.
In the short movie "How to Catch a Tiger with Joel Sartore," NatGeo photographer Joel Sartore attempts to get the perfect shot of a South China tiger at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Filmmaker Morgan Heim documents the struggle, which results in the use of a Prada perfume after two-and-a-half hours of failing to capture the attention of the uninterested wildcat.
Turns out, zookeepers often use fragrances to keep all kinds of large felines happy and healthy. Eau de toilettes—along with spices and essential oils—often serve as sensory enrichment for wildcats in controlled environments who are less exposed to a variety of olfactory experiences. In the wild, researchers use perfumes to lure the animals, with mixed results, though they’ve proved to be helpful in drawing the cats to hair traps or snares, which collect follicle samples when animals rub against them. With the hair, scientists are able to perform DNA tests, which can aid all sorts of research.
It’s not just perfume either: in 2010, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers at the Bronx Zoo in New York identified Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men as one of the more popular scents among its cheetahs. (It wasn't the favorite among cats in the wild; they declined to reveal which scent was.)
Louise Ginman, the Unit Supervisor for Carnivores at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia told Scientific American that they’d found lions and tigers to be the most receptive—snow leopards were as well—and that Obsession for Men was indeed one of the favorites.
Pat Thomas, a general curator at the Bronx Zoo, described fragrance testing to National Geographic, in which the big cats behaved a lot like your kitty does after breaking into the catnip: "Some would encourage this really powerful cheek rubbing behavior where these big cats would literally wrap their paws around a tree and just vigorously rub up and down. Sometimes they would start drooling, their eyes would half close, almost like they were going into a trance."
Scientific American reports that the big cats’ attraction to fragrances isn’t just about them having high-end taste—it’s because of a chemical compound in perfumes called civetone, which was originally taken directly from civets but is now produced synthetically.
See how the power of perfume makes for a stellar snapshot—like the one here from Sartore—in the NatGeo video down below.
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