Unveiling the majesty of Snow Leopards
In the entrancing realm of wildlife filmmaking, capturing the elusive and enchanting creatures of the natural world is a pursuit filled equally with challenges and rewards. For filmmakers in this domain, equipment becomes an essential companion on their adventures, and Sachtler tripods, known for their innovation and reliability, have carved a niche in the hearts of wildlife filmmakers.
Celebrated wildlife filmmaker and biologist, Dan O’Neill, used Sachtler’s flowtech aktiv system on an extraordinary expedition to create a remarkable new four-part series for BBC Earth, and unveil the enigmatic world of the Snow Leopards.
The Snow Leopard Conservation Story
Snow leopards are facing a critical threat to their survival. The mystical creatures that gracefully navigate the rugged landscapes of 12 countries are facing a dire threat to their very existence. With a dwindling population estimated at fewer than 4,000, these majestic felines are at the crossroads of survival, with poaching, urbanisation, and developing farming practices driving their numbers down.
However, high in the frozen mountains of Kyrgyzstan, in the Sarychat-Etash Reserve, a remarkable story of conservation is unfolding. Dan O’Neill’s four-part BBC Earth series “Snow Leopards: Ghost in the snow” showcases the dedication of local scientists, rangers, politicians, and communities who are working tirelessly to protect these elusive cats. The collaborative efforts of a dedicated team have led to a resurgence of the snow leopard population, making the reserve home to the highest density of snow leopards on Earth.
This series isn’t just about the challenges these leopards face; it’s about the triumphs of conservation. It’s a journey that invites viewers into a world of collaboration and determination, a world where the Snow Leopards are making a comeback from the brink of extinction.
“In the heart of the mountains, we experienced the harsh reality of what can happen when snow leopards and humans cross paths.”Dan O'Neill
“Riding semi-wild horses at 4,000 meters in -20°C to set camera traps, we discovered a heartwarming story of resilience and collaboration that’s led to tangible and exciting conservation outcomes for a species many believed was heading towards extinction.”
The series aims to shed light on the conservation efforts and challenges faced by the enigmatic snow leopards. With Sachtler tripods by his side, Dan could document remarkable and fleeting moments on a journey to capture the mesmerising world of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan.
Dan reveals that every shot they captured in the series utilised a tripod. Even in situations where they had to set up quickly, the Sachtler flowtech tripod’s agility allowed them to be prepared, ensuring they didn’t miss a single crucial moment. In the world of wildlife filmmaking, where every second counts, having a reliable tripod is indispensable.
The flexibility and speed offered by flowtech allowed Dan to get closer to the snow leopards, often considered mythical creatures because of their elusive nature. He emphasises, “They look like mythical creatures, something out of a book.” With the right equipment at hand, Dan’s team could seize unexpected opportunities and document moments that left a lasting impact on viewers.
Three feet are faster than four
Dan’s journey with Sachtler tripods began with the flowtech75, a game-changer in the world of tripod technology.
One of the standout features that impressed him was the exceptional speed and flexibility of the flowtech tripod. Unlike other tripods that could be time-consuming to adjust in height and angle, the flowtech tripod’s quick setup allowed him to seize those fleeting moments, a critical aspect of wildlife filmmaking.
“I've always loved the flowtech tripod. it's just ridiculously easy to use.”Dan O'Neill
flowtech’s lightweight design proved to be a game-changer. “It’s really light. I can put it on my shoulder; I don’t even need a bag,” he says. In the challenging terrains and remote locations where he operates, the flowtech tripod’s portability made it easy for Dan to carry it with agility.
Flexible support with serious stability
Dan’s experience with Sachtler tripods doesn’t end at the flowtech legs. The aktiv fluid head became an essential component during his wildlife filmmaking expeditions. The aktiv head’s flexibility and innovation became invaluable. Dan highlights the “ridiculously” fantastic speed swap feature, allowing him to adapt seamlessly to changing shooting scenarios, saving precious time. The illuminated spirit level on the aktiv head also made it easier to maintain perfect balance in challenging lighting conditions.
The flowtech aktiv system’s ability to remain stable in high winds proved to be a game-changer, especially when dealing with the unpredictable elements of the wilderness. “The stability is fantastic. In the mountains, it’s super windy. For long lens shots, you need it to be perfectly still. And we only had the tiniest bit of shake when the wind was at its fiercest,” Dan explains.
Capturing only the Magic
To capture the mystical beauty of the snow leopards and the remote wilderness they inhabit, Dan and his director of photography, Chris Beard, chose a set of impressive camera gear. They primarily used a Sony FS7, known for its exceptional image quality and adaptability.
For the intricate and distant shots, they opted for a Sony 200-600mm lens, a beast of a lens that allowed them to get up close and personal with the elusive snow leopards. The lens, combined with a 1.4x extender, enabled them to maintain image quality even when zooming in on their subjects. The result? Breathtaking shots of these mythical creatures in their natural habitat.
For other shots in the series, Dan and Chris used a Sony 18-110mm cine lens. These lenses, known for their stunning image quality and wide focal range, enabled them to capture the beauty of the landscapes and the creatures they encountered.
Collaborative Conservation Efforts
The documentary series isn’t just about stunning cinematography; it’s also a celebration of the tireless conservation efforts of people like Kuban Zhumabai-Uulu and Koustubh Sharma from the Snow Leopard Trust. The series highlights the determination of local scientists, rangers, politicians, and communities in Kyrgyzstan to protect these enigmatic cats.
The series doesn’t shy away from addressing the challenges facing snow leopards, including poaching, urbanisation, and changing farming practices. Yet, it also offers a glimpse into the positive outcomes of these conservation endeavours. Thanks to the dedication of these individuals and the collaboration of various stakeholders, the snow leopard population in the Sarychat-Etash Reserve has soared, making it a sanctuary for the highest density of snow leopards on Earth.
“Snow Leopards: Ghosts in the Snow” is a journey that combines the magic of these mythical creatures with the power of dedicated conservation efforts.
With the right equipment, like flowtech and aktiv, and a shared commitment to conservation, the beauty and wonder of the natural world can continue to be celebrated and protected for generations to come.
You can watch Dan O’Neill’s four-part BBC Earth series “Snow Leopards: Ghosts in the Snow” here. It’s a mesmerising adventure that will transport you to the captivating world of these elusive felines and the heroes working tirelessly to ensure their survival.
You can make a difference
Dan O’Neill is the Snow Leopard Trust’s ‘Explorer in Residence‘ – working with the core team and international partners to help snow leopard conservation across their Central Asian range.
The Snow Leopard Trust aims to protect this endangered cat through community-based conservation projects that are based on an improved scientific understanding of snow leopard behavior, needs, habitats and threats.
Take Action for Snow Leopards Today & Help Save These Cats.