Thursday is the official opening of the convention. I didn't take the whole day off work, and I didn't quite make my planned departure time, so I got there a bit before 7 PM, and just missed Cathryn Hilker showing off a cheetah. I got the chance to meet some people I only knew on-line, and of course had lots of names run past me that I promptly forgot (this kept happening all weekend, in spite of several reinforcements of some of the names). Took a bunch of people pictures, socialized, and got some positive comments on my photographs.
Friday is the big activity day of the FCF convention. I'd volunteered to be a "bus monitor" (keeping a list of people on "my" bus, to make sure we didn't leave anybody at any of our stops), so I had to be up in time to be out by the buses before we were supposed to board at 8 AM. We made it to the Cincinnati Zoo a little late but without incident, toured CREW (the Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Wildlife, a serious research lab which has scientists on exhibit in "fishbowl" labs with view windows, visited the cat house including a brief tour behind the scenes of the food prep area, saw the Wings of Wonder bird show (a pretty good bird show, and also pretty funny -- if you do visit the Cincinnati Zoo, do catch the bird show), had lunch, saw the cheetah cubs, got a Cat Ambassador show that I missed most of because I got lost, had a quick look behind the scenes at Siegfried and Roy's white lion exhibit. Then we got on the buses and headed to the zoo's cheetah breeding facility for ice cream and a cake celebrating FCF's 50th year, a tour of the actual cheetah facility, and the main event of the weekend, a cheetah run. Because the USDA has suddenly decided that cheetah are equivalent to tigers and absolutely no public contact is allowed (an utterly moronic regulation that could not have been uttered with a straight face by anyone with real knowledge of the animals, whatever their hidden agenda, but if I go into more detail I'll be ranting all night), we were strictly observing the cheetah from behind a fence, but it is still exciting to watch cheetah run past. After the cheetah run, we had a short membership meeting and dinner, consisting of hamburgers and hot dogs (lame!) and corn on the cob roasted in the husks (yummy!). Then we piled back on the buses and returned to the hotel, where I spent a little time being a cushion for a sleepy 3 week old serval and socialized a bit before staggering off to bed.
Saturday is the day for presentations by speakers, and we had good ones. Jim Sanderson, one of the world's leading field researchers on small felines, told us about some of the projects he's working on. Jim Fouts, founder of Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas, qualified himself as a real expert in breeding wild animals, and made a compelling pitch for ZAOA, a semi-new organization which seeks to challenge the AZA on its self-appointed monopoly on conservation and exotic animal husbandry in the US, which is sorely needed because the AZA is failing so abjectly to preserve many species, particularly many feline species. Pat Calahan gave an entertaining and interesting presentation on field research on the Black-Footed Cat, a rare small cat that lives in limited habitat in the southern tip of Africa. Bobby Hartslief gave us a great presentation on his work with cheetah; his technical successes were very encouraging, but stupid politics has caused him to shut down his cheetah work -- tying in very well with Jim Fouts' presentation on why someone other than the AZA needs to be making endangered species policy for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These and a few other speakers were followed by the banquet (with a pretty limited selection of food on the buffet, but what there was very good by hotel banquet standards), some awards, and the annual auction. This year we had a mixed silent and live auction, which kept the auction from dragging out insanely late, but it was very badly organized, and the voice auction was an almost complete flop as almost no one was actually paying attention or bidding. We did raise a lot of money, but that was due to one specific item -- Cathryn Hilker donated a special edition Krugerrand with a cheetah design, one of approximately 700 made, worth around $1700. As it was being passed around so people could see it (and it was beautiful), I managed to drop it and we had a tense but comedic moment as we tried to figure out where it had rolled. (It was in a protective plastic case, but it was a round case just the size of the coin.)
For the auction, I'd donated my services as a photographer for a custom photo shoot with the winner's animals, something I had deluded myself into thinking that people would be exited about. It sold for an extremely disappointing, nay insulting, price; the only bright side is that the person who won the bid is a friend in Indy to whom I'd already promised a photo shoot; I just have a little more incentive to get over to her place and do it now.