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Amur Leopard

Primorsky Krai

I feel so amazingly privileged to have seen these animals. Less than 10 years ago there were only 30-40 animals left in the wild, but thanks to some serious backing and conservation there are now 80-100 cats. What a success story and one that should be celebrated. Also totally amazing that if we ignore BBC I may have been the first British person to photograph these cats in the wild - this is definitely an amazing life experience.

In addition one of my images has been selected to go into the Remembering Wildlife book, so what a privilege that is and feel honored to participate. 

Also an artist Simon Stevenson did an impression of my pic, take a look at the linked webpage but also the images lower down on this page. 

Amur Leopard: Services
Amur Leopard: Image
Amur Leopard: Image
Amur Leopard: Gallery
Amur Leopard: Text

I first heard about the leopard hide tour three years prior to my arrival in Primorsky Krai. Olga and her company, Bohai Tours, had developed a bespoke hide experience in the Russian far east, but the description of the location as “life-threateningly cold” put me off a bit at first. Lured by the chance to see the world’s rarest cat – the Amur leopard – I eventually decided that the risk was worth it. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and I didn’t want to miss it – I just had to hope it wouldn’t be the last!
The journey to Vladisvostok was long and included an 8-hour flight just through Russia itself. Olga greeted me at the airport and I met my fellow photographer Lesley who I would be sharing a hide with for the next week. Lesley was Australian and I came from the UK; you couldn’t find two people farther apart on the globe coming together for a common venture: to photograph the endangered Amur leopard. 
Instead of going to the lodge the first night as originally planned, we stopped to pick up some supplies and then headed straight to the hide. This just increased our excitement as there would be no waiting to try our luck. 
In the hide we set up our gear and discussed the rules for the week: absolute silence and minimal movement. In order to have a chance of seeing the leopard we would need to be as quiet as possible and any noise or motion inside the hide would alert the cat to our presence.
The first evening was quiet and we turned in early, both still jet-lagged after our long journey. The anticipation of a sighting had us waking before dawn the next morning and we set our cameras up in the dark, breaking the ice on the camera hole covers and using de-icer on the windows. The hide had basically frozen over while we slept.
As we watched and waited the snow began to fall. This gave the whole experience a magical atmosphere, but I still felt nervous and on edge. There was a lot at stake – it had taken a lot of effort and a lot of time and travel to get to this place and if we didn’t manage to see the cat it would be a huge disappointment after so much hoping and planning. 
Amazingly, our work was rewarded early: after only a short time waiting, we saw a huge golden beast gliding down the hillside in front of us. She moved like a ghost, silent and stealthy as she nervously approached the deer carcass laid out in front of the hide. Lesley and I were careful not to startle her with any movement or camera clicks; we very carefully moved our lenses in the leopard’s direction only when she had her head down and was eating. The snow fell gently around her as she crunched on the deer bones, creating a perfect scene.
The Amur leopard is the most critically endangered big cat, with only 80-90 individuals remaining in the wild. To have a chance to see one in person was phenomenal and the encounter had me shaking with excitement and awe. Lesley and I were witnessing something so rare – had conservation measures not been enacted in the past couple decades, this cat would most likely already be extinct. Instead it was here, in front of us, in the wild forest of far eastern Russia. 
After a short while the leopard moved off, slipping back into the forest as silently as she had come. Over the next couple of days we regularly had sightings of her in the early mornings or late evenings, always in fairly poor light and each time appearing as if by magic and then disappearing just as mysteriously.
And then one day we had an even more extraordinary encounter: in the middle of the day, a juvenile leopard crept carefully down to the carcass. This was the cub of the leopard we had been seeing regularly. He was even more nervous than his mother, slinking down in a roundabout route, sniffing and stopping frequently to check for danger. Lesley and I sat perfectly still, barely daring to breathe, hoping that he would get the courage to make it all the way down to the kill. After a while he did, appearing in perfect light and giving us the encounter of a lifetime. 
The juvenile stayed for a while, crunching his way through bones and frozen flesh, pausing occasionally to glance our way but evidently detecting no danger from the hide where we clicked away at our shutters.
After half an hour or so of giving us an amazing show, the juvenile moved off and disappeared back up the hill. We never saw him again. 
His mother came a few more times, allowing us to spend time just watching her rather than worrying about photos as we had already gotten so many. Being able to sit in this exotic place with this extraordinary creature only a short distance away was truly the experience of a lifetime and something that will stay with me forever. 
Thank you to Olga and Bohai Tours for making this dream trip come true. Olga’s team took great care of us and by the end of the trip they were more than our tour operators; they had become friends.

Amur Leopard: Selected Work
Amur Leopard: Selected Work
Amur Leopard: Video

Amur Cub

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