AUTHOR’S NOTE: This past winter, I traveled to China to document two of the most beautiful and iconic animals of our natural world, Giant Panda bears and Siberian tigers. My goal was to examine and document two successful animal breeding/re-introduction programs, one for each of the respective animals. I felt comfortable seeing the animals in large enclosures because of the programs’ goals to help increase and protect populations of these magnificent animals. It was an invitation to document very special moments, extremely difficult if not impossible otherwise.
The Wolong preserve is located in dramatic steep mountains, several hours’ drive outside of Chengdu.The preserve is run by a large staff of dedicated scientists and volunteers who care for the bears. I spent four full days with the Panda bears in a variety of wonderful settings. The Pandas spent most of their time consuming fresh bamboo, which is provided to them throughout the day. An adult Panda can eat as much as 20-30 pounds of bamboo shoots a day. Much of the rest of the Pandas’ time is spent playing with others or sleeping. Famously adorable and equally interesting, it was quite a special experience to view and document these fascinating bears at such close proximity. The Hengdaohezi Tiger Preserve is located in a very remote section in the northeast part of China, bordering on Russia’s Siberia. I spent three days photographing the world’s largest cats surrounded by stark winter landscapes. Truly beautiful, their intricate and colorful coats of orange and black are stunning contrasted with the white snowy earth. Strong yet graceful, it is mesmerizing watching the interactions unfold between the tigers. From first light until sunset, with numb fingers and well below freezing temperatures, I documented the majestic tigers.
It is estimated that there are as few as 1,600 Pandas and 500 Siberian tigers living in the wild. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) work to help these animals and others “in the wild through a variety of programs, including scientific assessments, habitat conservation and outreach to local governments and people within the animal’s home range.” Returning from China, I reflected on the shockingly visible pollution, the exotic and delicious cuisine, the intriguing culture, the friendly Chinese people and of course, the beautiful Pandas and tigers.
Robert Knight recently hiked and documented the 230-mile John Muir trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. In 2007, he was the winner of the “Wild Places” award in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. More of his award-winning nature and wildlife photography can be viewed by visiting the Robert Knight Gallery in Carmel, on Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenues. 831/626-1230 or please visit www.robertknightgallery.com.