Wildlife presenter, Dan O’Neill talks about his new series for BBC Earth, and how the Leica Noctivid became his sidekick on the shoot!
Written by Dan O’Neill
For our brand new series for BBC Earth, “Snow Leopards: Ghosts in the Snow”, myself and my good friend and DoP, Chris Beard, set out to follow the conservation story of one of the world’s most beloved, stunningly beautiful, yet elusive creatures – the snow leopard.
These lonely cats completely disappear into their stark and icy domain, yet in the past few decades, their population has sharply declined due to poaching for their fur and bones, urbanisation and changing farming practices. Sadly it is now estimated that there could be fewer than 4,000 snow leopards remaining, scattered across 12 sprawling countries, and one of them is killed every single day.
However in Kyrgyzstan, the work of a maverick team of multi-skilled local scientists, rangers, politicians and communities has given snow leopards a fighting chance, and now they are making a comeback. We teamed up with Kuban Zhumabai-Uulu and Koustubh Sharma, from the Snow Leopard Trust, on a journey from the capital city of Bishkek all the way into the high frozen mountains of the Sarychat-Etash Reserve, an almost mythical looking landscape that now boasts the highest density of snow leopards anywhere on Earth.
On our mission, we saw first-hand the brutal reality of what can happen when snow leopards and humans collide, rode semi-wild horses up at 4000 metres in -20C to set camera traps, but what we found was such a positive story of collaboration and determination that has led to real, tangible and exciting conservation outcomes, for a species many people will think of as moving its way towards extinction.
The Noctivids were one of the key ingredients to the expedition being so successful, and actually were how we spotted the wild snow leopard for the first time. The image quality is so crisp, clear, and bright and the barely noticeable differences between the ghostly cats and their backdrop we could decipher with the clarity of the image. They really became my sidekick on the shoot, always around my shoulder out in the wild, as you can see in the series!
We did see snow leopards on our expedition, but how many we saw you will have to find out for yourselves. The films are all available right now in a playlist on BBC Earth YouTube, and will be released across other social platforms and their website in the coming weeks.
You can watch Dan O’Neill’s series “Snow Leopards: Ghosts in the Snow” here.