Photographer Kittiya Pawlowski has captured breathtaking images of one of the world’s most elusive predators: the snow leopard. After traveling 300 miles on foot through the Himalayas, Pawlowski finally found what she was looking for.
“It was exhausting,” Pawlowski said Newsweek. “It’s like climbing stairs eight hours a day with a pillow on your face.
“The end of the monsoon season was lashed by bad weather and poor visibility. Up, down, hot, cold, wet, sunburnt, exhausted, euphoric; that was the daily grind as I traversed the drawing of the rivers that drain the Himalayas in the Ganges”.
Pawlowski began his research in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal, where he first saw tracks of the animal. “From Lukla, I trekked in the upper valleys of Sagarmatha National Park.
“Every day I scanned the valleys with my telephoto lens for movement. I was extremely excited when I finally saw movement after so many days of walking.”
On the morning of the fight, Pawlowski hardly left his tent: “My oxygen dropped to 64 and I had a terrible headache at 17,000 feet. I was going to sleep; however, I decided to push myself and keep looking.” .
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified snow leopards as vulnerable to extinction, with only 2,700-3,400 mature individuals remaining in the wild. The so-called ghost cat lives in the snowy mountains of Central Asia, from southern Russia to northern India.
Both climate change and human expansion are reducing the snow leopard’s habitat. Their population is also vulnerable to poaching and the illegal trade in animal skins and body parts.
“Snow leopards have been my favorite animal since I was a kid,” Pawlowski said. “After watching a documentary on Everest several years ago, I decided to try photographing these ‘ghost’ cats.
“I used a Nikon D850 and an AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens to scan the valleys for movement every day, until I finally spotted a snow leopard outside Gorak Shep.”
Gorak Shep is a small settlement on the edge of a frozen lake near Mount Everest overlooking a field of ice pinnacles dubbed Phantom Alley.
Pawlowski has been experimenting with photography since he was 3 and uses his art to capture the beauty of nature.
“I hope my work inspires people to explore and care for the Earth,” she said.
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