Photographer Kittiya Pawlowski has captured jaw-dropping images of one of the world’s most elusive predators: the snow leopard. After hiking 300 miles through the Himalayas, Pawlowski finally found what she was looking for.
“It was exhausting,” Pawlowski said. Newsweek. “Like walking up stairs for eight hours a day with a pillow over your face.
“The end of the monsoon season was marked by bad weather and poor visibility. Up, down, hot, cold, wet, sunburned, exhausted, euphoric; it was the daily routine as I traversed the diagram of the rivers which drain the Himalayas towards the Ganges.”
Pawlowski began her research in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal, where she first saw traces of the animal. “From Lukla I hiked into the high 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 encounter, Pawlowski almost didn’t leave 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 and keep looking.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified snow leopards as vulnerable to extinction, with only 2,700 to 3,400 mature individuals in the wild. The so-called ghost cat lives in the snow-capped mountains of Central Asia, from southern Russia to northern India.
Climate change and human expansion are causing the snow leopard’s habitat to shrink. 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 every day for movement until I finally spotted a snow leopard outside by Gorak Shep.
Gorak Shep is a small settlement on the edge of a frozen lake bed near Mount Everest that overlooks a field of ice pinnacles nicknamed Phantom Alley.
Pawlowski has been experimenting with photography since the age of 3 and uses his art to capture the beauty of nature.
“I hope my work will inspire people to explore and care for the Earth,” she said.
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