An Earth Day Album Of 25 Endangered/Threatened Species I’ve Seen

It’s clear that one lesson we, as a species MUST learn, is to share. All of these animals have just as much right to be here as we do. As they go, in the end, so shall we.

I’ve never made a point, for the most part, of specifically seeking out endangered or threatened species to photograph for my paintings. But, as it’s happened, in less than ten years I’ve seen two dozen, plus one, all in the wild. Quite a surprise, really.

Sometimes they’ve been pretty far away, but that in no way diminished the thrill of seeing them. Close-ups in a zoo or other captive animal facility can be useful, within certain limits, but seeing a wild animal in its own habitat, even at a distance, is much more satisfying and gives me ideas and information for my work that I couldn’t get any other way.

In no particular order, because they are all trying to survive on this planet:

Takhi, Hustai National Park, Mongolia
Monk Seal, Kauai, Hawaii, United States
Wolf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States
White-napped crane, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, Mongolia
White Rhino, Lewa Downs Conservancy, Kenya
Laysan Albatross, Kauai, Hawaii, United States
Tule Elk, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, United States
Rothschild's Giraffe, Soysambu Conservancy, Kenya
Nene, Hawaii Big Island, Hawaii, United States
Desert Bighorn, Anza-Borrego State Park, California, United States
Grizzly Bear, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States (Bear 264)
Saker Falcon, near Hangai Mountains, Mongolia
Green Sea Turtle, Hawaii Big Island, Hawaii, United States
Grevy's Zebra, Lewa Downs Conservancy, Kenya
Lammergeier, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia
California Condor, Central Coast, California, United States
African Lion, Masai Mara, Kenya
Hawaiian Hawk (Juvenile), Volcano National Park, Hawaii Big Island, Hawaii, United States
Siberian Marmot, Hustai National Park, Mongolia
Whooper Swans, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, Mongolia
Cheetahs, Masai Mara, Kenya
Apapane, Hawaii Big Island, Hawaii, United States
Trumpeter Swans, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States
Cinereous Vulture (Juvenile), Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia
Argali, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia

Animal Expressions, Part 4- Mouths and Contest Result

Contest result: No one got all the noses right. The right answers are: grizzly, bison, moose, turkey vulture, elk.  The person who came the closest guessed black bear instead of grizzly because the muzzle wasn’t dished, but nailed all the rest. This may be because it was a young animal. I went back to my reference and took a good look at my pictures of black bear and I think, in fairness, that I didn’t do a good enough job making it clear in my drawing which was which, so I would like to announce that Heather Houlahan is the winner and will be getting a packet of my notecards. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who entered!

On to mouths. After eyes, the mouth may be the most defining part of an animal’s head. These drawings were done with a Venetian Red Derwent Drawing Pencil. They’re kind of waxy, like Conte crayon as opposed to chalkier, for lack of a better term, like hard pastels. The paper is, once again, vellum bristol.

All of today’s examples are from Kenya.

First up, a reticulated giraffe that I photographed in the Samburu, Kenya in 2004.


Giraffe lips, believe it or not, are very interesting. As anyone who has fed a giraffe at a wild animal park knows, the upper lip is extremely flexible, almost prehensile. What is really impressive, however, is that the mouth is so tough that a giraffe can wrap it’s tongue around a very thorny acacia branch, pull it loose, stick it in its mouth and chew it without a second thought or, apparently, getting punctured.


This is the mouth of a white rhino that I photographed at the Lewa Downs Conservancy, south of the Samburu, also in 2004. Lewa is one of the best places to see these prehistoric-looking beasts. White rhinos, when seen from the front have a square lip. Black rhinos’ lips come to a point. According to Wikipedia, there is no actual evidence that the word “white” is a mis-translation of the Afrikaaner word for “wide”.

cokes-hartebeest-mouthThis is the mouth and muzzle of a Coke’s hartebeest, a large antelope, which I saw in the Masai Mara, Kenya. It has a very long head. When I enlarged the image to see the mouth better, I was struck by how its shape and the shape of the nose flowed together in an almost art nouveau manner. Just the kind of thing I look for.

spotted-hyena-mouthAlso from the Mara, this is the mouth of a spotted hyena. Their jaws are trememdously strong and can break large bones apart. And, as you can see, are filled with teeth. Studies have proved that they hunt at least as much as they scavenge. They live in female-centric “clans” in a defined territory that they defend against anything, even lions. I really enjoyed watching them and hearing them “whoop” at night.

young-lion-muzzleThis is the muzzle of a young lion I saw in the Mara. No scars yet and it has an almost soft quality that will change as he gets older.

Finally, I was out in the safari vehicle at dawn, also in the Mara, when we came upon a lioness who was just waking up. She gave us a REALLY big yawn, got up, stretched and ambled off. Keeping everything lined up and in decent perspective was challenging as you can see from the erasure marks.


Next week the eyes have it and then I’ll put it all together.

Animal Expression- Part 2: Ears

Starting at the top, so to speak, this week we’ll look at ears.

It’s important to not only look at the ear itself, but where it inserts onto the skull. These drawing were done in less than three hours with a Wolff’s Carbon pencil on vellum bristol paper. All the animals are native to Africa.

Bat-eared Fox, Kenya 2004
Bat-eared Fox, Masai Mara, Kenya 2004

Sometimes the ears occupy most of the top of the skull. They are the defining feature of this fox species, which is nocturnal. This one and its mate, however, were out and about near their den at mid-morning.

White Rhino, Lewa Downs Conservancy, Kenya 2004
White Rhino, Lewa Downs Conservancy, Kenya 2004

Ears can also be set high and perched almost at the corners of the skull. Notice how the fringe of hair makes them much more interesting and expressive than they would be without it. Also: Note that I didn’t “finish” the drawing, but concentrated on the parts of interest. Something to remember that might solve a problem sometime.

Cheetah, Masai Mara, Kenya 2004
Cheetah, Masai Mara, Kenya 2004

Notice that the cheetah’s ears are set low on the its head. They are down when the animal is relaxed and only come up when something has caught its attention. Ear set and skull shape are critical for getting  a cheetah head to look right.

Lioness, Denver Zoo 2008
Lioness, Denver Zoo 2008

I just happened to find this image of a lioness which has almost the same angle to the head as the cheetah. You can see that while her ears are in a similar position on her skull, they are much bigger in proportion to her head size. They are carried more erect and have a black stripe on the back that is apparently used as a signaling system when hunting with other lions.

The first three drawings were animals that I photographed in the wild. The lioness and the next two are zoo residents. While remembering that wild animals show wear and tear that captives do not, it is still very useful to do these kinds of studies to learn how to draw details like ears.

Hyena cub, Denver Zoo 2008
Hyena cub, Denver Zoo 2008

The outward curve of the ear inserts smoothly at its base into the skull. Hyena cubs are dark chocolate brown. For comparison, here is an adult (the mother).

Hyena female, Denver Zoo 2008
Hyena female, Denver Zoo 2008

As the head grows, the ears appear to move back on the skull. Unlike the cheetah, the hyena’s ears are carried upright. Hyenas always seem to look ready for anything.

Look at your own pets, whether it’s a cat, dog or hamster and see what you can observe about the ears. Then try drawing them!