Feature: Bao Yongqing, photographer capturing wildlife moment on roof of world



Photographing wildlife is more about educating the next generation than winning prizes, as few local children can identify the plants and animals: Bao Yongqing

by Xinhua writers Yuan Quan, Yin Pingping

BEIJING, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Few people have the chance to savor the magnificent sight of wildlife on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, but Bao Yongqing, a Tibetan amateur photographer, braves freezing temperatures for days and sometimes weeks to share the experience with the world.

His photos have come under the spotlight on Wednesday, the World Earth Day, which is marked annually on April 22 across the globe to promote environmental protection and sustainable development.

In 2019, Bao, 52, won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year, an international honor awarded annually by London's Natural History Museum, for his shot of a Tibetan fox startling a marmot.

The picture captures the movement of the fox baring its teeth and the marmot looking panicked.

"The expressive intensity of the postures holds you transfixed, and the thread of energy between the raised paws seems to hold the protagonists in perfect balance," said judging panel chair Roz Kidman Cox.

Bao named the photo "The Moment," but he had tracked the animals for days across the "roof of the world" and snapped thousands of photos the fox finally gripped the dead marmot by the neck.

"What makes me happy about winning the prize?" Bao said. "It was using my cameras to bring the plateau to the world - it's my home and a wildlife paradise."

Bao poses for a photo on Tianjun Mountain, Qinghai Province, Nov. 19, 2019. (Yin Pingpng/Xinhua)

Bao was born at the foot of snow-topped Tianjun Mountain, on the northern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, a five-hour drive from Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province. He is fluent in Tibetan, his mother's native tongue.

Working in a local company selling livestock products, Bao heard from a herdsman in 2015 how a snow leopard had eaten a yak.

He had never seen the large cat before, so he determined to go to the mountains to find one.

Photographing wild animals is often thought of as a game of luck. Bao was not always lucky and missed capturing his first meeting with snow leopards.

The snow leopard is an iconic plateau animal, but it is mostly active after dark, choosing to shelter among rocks or caves during daylight. This behavior has earned it the nickname "mountain hermit" by scientists who study it with the help of sensitive infrared cameras.

A snow leopard on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.(Photo by Bao Yongqing)

Bao bought 24 infrared cameras worth about 100,000 yuan (14,101 U.S. dollars) and deployed them in the mountains. After a month, he knew the areas frequented by snow leopards.

In September, he chose a cave and camped alone. It was snowing. After waiting four days, he spotted with his binoculars a snow leopard with a cub.

He began trembling and could not press the shutter. "I felt my heart beating very fast," he recalled.

He switched his camera to video mode and lit a cigarette to calm down. But minutes later, he found he was too thrilled to focus on the animals, and he recorded only blue sky.

Bao's photos include snow leopards breastfeeding their cubs, two manuls sticking their tongues out at each other and a weasel walking in snow with a flower in its mouth.

The secret is patience and endurance. Bao refuses to lure animals close for a good picture.

He once bought a drone to capture birds feeding, but it frightened the birds and he gave up. "All animals have their own way of living. Human interference can have unexpected outcomes."

The proud director of the Qinghai Wildlife Protection Association, he stresses that photographing wildlife is more about educating the next generation than winning prizes, as few local children can identify the plants and animals.

Three Tibetan foxes.(Photo by Bao Yongqing)

He plans to produce a book of wildlife images for schoolchildren: "We talk about animal protection, but if we don't even know what the animals look like, how can we protect them?"

Since winning the award, he has refused high offers for the copyright of his photos. "I will donate the photos to the association, which can print them as brochures and posters for schools and communities," Bao said.

Unlike many international wildlife photographers who travel the world, Bao just wants to focus on the plateau.

"I will dedicate my life to the wildlife conservation in my home." ■