Herder photographers from NW China's Qinghai win Golden Rooster Awards after 6 years' dedication to snow leopard photography

(People's Daily Online) 14:11, November 17, 2023

Three Tibetan herders take photos of wildlife in Zadoi county, Qinghai Province, on December 12, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Wild China

The Angsai Grand Canyon, located in Zadui county of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Qinghai Province, is situated in the headwaters of the Lancang River. It is home to various species of feline animals, such as snow leopards.

Local herders Dajie, Ciding, and Kunchochopeng have used their cameras to document the ever-changing seasons and remarkable wildlife that inhabits the area, with a particular focus on capturing snow leopards.

In 2008, Dajie invested his earnings from harvesting caterpillar fungi to purchase a second-hand point-and-shoot camera. This marked the beginning of his journey into wildlife photography. Later, Ciding and Kunchochopeng also bought their own cameras. Kunchochopeng said, "During our herding days, I find joy in capturing the beauty that surrounds us, be it landscapes, animals, or flowers. If something catches my eye, I simply take a picture."

With limited equipment and a lack of photography knowledge, the three herders embarked on a self-taught journey.

Ciding recalled, "Back then, there weren't many individuals well-versed in photography, and we were apprehensive about tampering with the camera settings and potentially damaging it. So we primarily relied on the automatic mode."

In early 2016, Ciding came across an injured snow leopard while taking photos in the mountains. He and his friends rescued the animal and reported the incident to the local government. News of this reached wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong, who promptly arrived in Angsai. Impressed by the remarkable snow leopard photos taken by Ciding and Dajie with their modest cameras, Xi felt a mix of admiration and regret. He believed that they deserved more advanced equipment to capture even more extraordinary images.

A snow leopard descends from among the rocks in the Sanjiangyuan region. Photo: Courtesy of Xi Zhinong

Xi enrolled Dajie, Ciding and Kunchochopeng in a program dedicated to cultivating herder photographers. Through this initiative, the herders received advanced equipment and comprehensive training in photographic techniques.

In August 2020, a photography exhibition featuring pictures taken by the herder photographers opened in Shanghai. The photos taken by Dajie, Ciding and Kunchochopeng reached a wider audience, receiving widespread acclaim. This further strengthened their confidence in the possibility of creating a snow leopard film shot entirely by Chinese photographers, under the guidance of Xi.

In August 2023, the documentary film "Snow Leopards and Friends," directed by Xi's team and the three herder photographers, was officially released.

The challenges faced during the making of this film remain unknown to most. Snow leopards, known for their reclusive nature, possess a remarkable awareness of their environment, making it difficult for photographers to track their movements.

Enduring extreme weather conditions, freezing temperatures, and limited oxygen, the three herder photographers would spend over 10 days in the field without a single sighting of a snow leopard. "We never gave up; our objective was clear: to share a film about snow leopards with the world," said Kunchochopeng.

In 2019, the photography team stumbled upon the den of a snow leopard and her cubs. The discovery filled everyone with excitement, but they were careful not to disturb the animals. They set up a tent at a distance and took turns monitoring the den. Surprisingly, the snow leopards seemed to accept the presence of the photographers. Over the course of 35 days, they managed to capture invaluable footage of this remarkable encounter.

On Nov. 4, 2023, "Snow Leopards and Friends" received the Best Documentary/Science and Educational Film award at the 36th China Golden Rooster Awards.

"The release of the film marks a step forward. I hope that in the future, we will have more opportunities to present China's wildlife on both domestic and international screens, reaching a broader audience," Xi said.

(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Liang Jun)


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