According to award-winning wildlife photographer Steve Winter, he didn't choose big cats, they chose him.
"I was working in Guatemala and a jaguar came to my door one night - scared me to death. I heard him walk up, scratch under the door and then sniff. I was like a babe in the woods. The next story I did was the first ever jaguar story for National Geographic. Certain things in life are meant to be."
Before that fateful encounter in 1991, Winter had been a globetrotting photojournalist. These days, he is recognised as one of the world's top big cat photographers, and he's coming to New Zealand early next month to talk about his amazing adventures in the wild with his stage presentation My Nine Lives.
"I love to tell stories and I love to talk about what I do because I'm passionate about trying to save big cats. Luckily, I'm an outgoing person, and I just get up on stage and organise the stories of what happened to me in the field with each different cat. I love doing it. I can't tell you how much I love doing it."
Like a lot of people, Winter grew up with the fantasy of one day working for National Geographic. But, unlike most people, he eventually made it.
"I'll never forget lying on the living room floor in front of my fireplace and daydreaming about going to some remote exotic location and hanging out with people and cultures that I could hardly imagine even existed. That's when I decided I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic."
In addition to his work for the magazine and his global speaking engagements, Winter has also successfully channelled his passion into an on-screen role.
"I just spent the last month in front of a camera in India. We've been shooting a TV show on me doing leopards, so instead of just getting on stage and talking about what I do, I'm actually talking to camera while I'm in the field doing it. That'll be on National Geographic Channel."
The various outlets give Winter a chance to get people thinking about the preservation of the magnificent creatures he spends time with.
"Habitat loss is the number one problem for these animals. Poaching for the endangered species trade is big also. I started working with scientists, giving them pictures. They're out there trying to get money for their project, trying to save these animals, and that became my job also. Because why would you spend two years working with an animal, and then just walk away? You just can't do it. That's why I got into this.
"Being a photojournalist was in my favour. I learned the value of telling a story, because pretty pictures aren't going to change anybody's mind. You have to tell the story of these animals and the people who live with them and their environment, and how we as humans are affecting their lives."
Modern technology has made photography more available and accessible than ever, and Winter says this has enhanced the power of the photographic image.
"The reason is we have more people who are photographers. Everybody with a smartphone is a photographer, which makes them more visually literate. When we become more visually literate, the image means more to us. We're inundated with images from morning to night. If we can find images people haven't seen before and catch their eye, then they're more likely to investigate what's going on."
National Geographic Presents: My Nine Lives with Steve Winter in Auckland on August 5 and Wellington on August 6. To book call 0800 111 999 or see ticketmaster.co.nz.