Sascha, please tell us a little about your current project with Snow Leopard Trust.
Our joint mission is to capture high-resolution images of wild snow leopards within the rugged beauty of their natural habitat in the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. We aim to document not just the leopards’ behaviors but also the stunning environment they call home. There are few professional high-resolution camera trap photos taken in this region. We hope to offer a unique glimpse into this elusive species for the entire world to see. In terms of the number of systems deployed, this is my largest camera project so far and I hope it will also become the longest-running.
What would you like the impact of this project to be in the field of snow leopard conservation?
I strongly believe that photography can play a significant role in wildlife conservation, driving both awareness and action. Capturing the existence, beauty, behavior, or challenges of an animal can create a bond between the image and the observer, fostering empathy and a sense of responsibility toward the protection of the species. Where the eyes go, the heart will follow. Thus, photographs are a crucial instrument for conservation efforts. I take great pride in the hope that my camera-trapping photography aids Snow Leopard Trust and their partner organization Snow Leopard Foundation in their vital snow leopard conservation awareness and education initiatives.
What is the biggest challenge you face in this current endeavor?
This project wouldn’t be feasible without the invaluable support of the Snow Leopard Foundation. Transporting the gear to the locations is always challenging: it’s a team effort and often involves donkeys or horses for the uphill journey to remote sites. In many cases, obtaining a special permit is required for installing camera traps in protected areas or border regions. Then comes the challenge of setting up the traps in just the right spots—the local teams are experts in predicting the movements of snow leopards. Not to mention adjusting the camera and flash settings for a range of conditions. Finally, there’s the critical task of keeping everything operational over extended periods, particularly in the face of harsh weather.
Have you seen a snow leopard in the wild yet?
My first encounter with a snow leopard was in Ladakh, India. It was just a tiny black silhouette against the mountain ridge on a chilly December afternoon in 2018. Despite being equipped with binoculars and a 600mm lens coupled with a teleconverter on a crop sensor camera, the elusive cat remained just beyond reach. Feeling both thrilled and frustrated, I decided to try my luck with camera traps.
What inspired you to pursue wildlife photography?
My passion for wildlife photography was born from my love for nature and animals, which dates to my childhood. I was lucky to grow up in the idyllic surrounds of a quaint village in northern Germany, where the meadows and forests were my playground. However, it wasn’t until a trip to Rwanda in 2013 that I really got into photography. That’s when I got my hands on a professional camera for the first time. It was also the time when prices of DSLRs were finally becoming reasonable for everyday folks.
Snow Leopard Trust is grateful to Sascha and the many other talented wildlife photographers who generously donate their images to help promote our conservation efforts. This work is possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of our team at Snow Leopard Foundation-Kyrgyzstan, local guides, rangers and community members who share their knowledge of the landscape and snow leopard behavior. We are grateful to each and every one of them for their expertise.
Please consider purchasing our 2024 calendar, which features stunning snow leopard images from Sascha and other accomplished wildlife photographers. All purchases support our efforts to ensure a future for this magnificent cat.
Photo credits: Top image by Sascha Fonseca. All other images by Max Bos.