One of my pet niggles is seeing a really nice painting of a wild animal with a background that makes it obvious the reference material has been taken in a zoo. The number of lions, tigers, giraffes, meerkats etc that I've seen painted with a background of vegetation not native to the animal is amazing.
I know this might not matter to some people, it's just something I don't like.
So if my reference is of a captive animal I try to incorporate a background consistent with the animals natural habitat using the following steps:-
1. Make sure I know what (if any) subspecies the animal is as this might affect the range. For instance the tiger I'm currently drawing is an Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) I know the scientific classification doesn't matter but I have a particular interest in the classification of mammals dating back to my University days, sad I know :(
2. Have a look at the range of the animal and if there's a choice decide on the habitat I'm going to use.
3.Decide what sort of background (if any ) I want to incorporate.
4. Using my reference books, DVD's and the internet look at as many photographs of my chosen area I can find until I feel comfortable with the setting.
I took the photograph of the Tiger at a Wildlife Park in the South Lakes, hopefully I can add some vegetation more appropriate to the Russian Far East.