Snow leopard cub plays on log
A snow leopard cub plays on a log at Zoo Basel in Switzerland. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

If you're interested in cute animals and wildlife conservation, chances are you've seen one of Tambako the Jaguar's photos making the rounds on the Internet. Swiss photographer Emmanuel Keller has a knack for capturing special moments and captivating portraits of animals in zoos and parks all around the world — and the vast majority of these amazing photos are available to the public. He even makes his photos available for artists to use as inspiration, with conditions, of course.

We talked with Keller about his journey into wildlife photography and his philosophy behind making his photos widely available to use.

Cheetah cub with flamingo feathers
A cheetah cub is caught with flamingo feathers in his mouth. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

MNN: How did you come up with the name 'Tambako the Jaguar'?

Emmanuel Keller: Good Question! In 1999, as I was starting to be present online (but I didn't really do photography back then), I was looking for an Internet nickname, [thinking] it should have something to do with jaguars, my favorite animal/totem.

I looked on a map of the Amazonian rain forest and found a place named "Tambaqui." I adapted the name to my taste and got "Tambako." Now I'm known online (and to some of my friends) as Tambako the Jaguar, or simply Tambako or even Tamby.

Albino peacock
A gorgeous albino peacock shows off its wispy feathers. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

How did you first become interested in wildlife photography?

I was always interested in animals and many years ago, I began visiting zoos more regularly. Back then I had a bridge camera, which died, and had to find a replacement. After hesitating a bit, I bought a DSLR, which was the best choice, because it really developed my interest in wildlife photography. I learned rather quickly (also with the help of friends or while reading on the Internet). I think I have a talent for it.

Wild jaguaress in the jungle
A wild jaguar makes its way through the forest in the Pantanal of Brazil. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

What are your favorite animals to photograph?

Definitely big cats and any other feline. My favorite one is the jaguar. Sadly there are none in Switzerland, so I have to travel to see one. Luckily, I have been able to observe wild ones in the Pantanal in Brazil.

Seal peeks head out of water
A seal emerges from the water at Zoo Zürich. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

What is your favorite location to take photos? Where have you traveled to take photos?

If I had the choice, I'd go to photograph where there are many wild animals, especially big cats, like in Africa, South America or India. I already photographed wildlife in Africa a few times and once in Brazil, where I saw the wild jaguars. But I mostly go to the zoos of Switzerland (mostly in Zürich, since I live close to it), but also in Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, et cetera. A long time ago, I visited the Beijing zoo!

Bald eagle
The bald eagle takes a regal stance in this stunning portrait. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

What is your go-to camera equipment for wildlife shoots?

Nowadays, it's a Nikon D4 with a Nikkor 200-400mm f/4. I also often have my D800 with a 70-200mm f/2.8.

Eye of crocodile peeks out from water's surface
A crocodile keeps an eye out as it swims through the water at the Prague Zoo. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

Your work has been used all across the Internet. What is your reasoning for making your images available under Creative Commons?

Since I'm not making a living from photography (it's my hobby but I still earn money from it), I thought that people who deserve it would love to use them for free. I enjoy hearing from them, saying they are happy to be able use my photos — in their blogs, for example — and that they are nice.

I also provide photos to animal conservation and welfare societies, such as the Snow Leopard Trust. This is my way to help to save the magnificent animals that are left on our planet.

I also sell many of them through Getty Images and through Wildlife Reference Photos as references for artists for a modest price.

* * *

Take a look at some of Keller's favorites from his collection:

White tiger walks through vegetation in... England?
Emmanuel captured this photo of a white tiger through the fence at a zoo in the Wyre Forest District of England. You'd never guess! (Photo: Tambako/Flickr)
Wolf yawns in snow
A wolf lets out a fierce yawn in his snowy enclosure at Zoo Zürich. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
White lion has bright blue eyes
A white lion stares into the camera lens with piercing blue eyes. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Young tiger sticks its paws in the water
Luva the juvenile tiger dips her paws in the water at Zoo Zürich. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Macaques have amusing expressions while embracing
Macaques hold one another with expressions of pure awe at the Amneville Zoo. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Leopardess
A leopardess gazes with brightly colored eyes. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Lioness tends to her newborn cub
A lioness tends her newborn cub at the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Lion cub paws at camera lens
A curious lion cub paws at the wide-angle lens. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

Here are a few of MNN's favorite photos:

Brown wood owl
A brown wood owl stares at the camera with huge, round eyes. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Griffon vulture drips water
A griffon vulture drips water after taking a drink at the Amneville Zoo in France. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Yawning fennec fox
A sleepy fennec fox gives a yawn that's almost bigger than he is at Toni's Zoo in Switzerland. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)
Polar bear shakes off water
A polar bear shakes off water after a swim at the Wilhelma zoo in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr)

Anna Norris is an associate editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

You can see more of Tambako the Jaguar's images featured in these MNN articles: