How Do You Get Close to a Panda? Surprise Answer: Panda Suits

After my National Geographic cover story appeared in August, many were fascinated by the scented panda suits! I talked with a number of media personnel, such as The Creators Project (part of Vice), NPR’s How To Do Everything podcast, Business Insider, and My Modern Met, about what it takes to get candid shots of these elusive animals.

As a photographer, I often try to look as little like a photographer as I can and this costume was definitely an extraordinary example. The disguise prevents pandas from getting accustomed to their human caregivers and allows me to get close to my subjects.    The suits are scented with panda urine and feces, which is not as gross as it sounds.  It smells like bamboo and something similar to wet puppies.  But I have to say, when you wake up every morning and put on an outfit somewhere between a mascot and a bank robber, you know you’re really living the story.

Pandas Gone Wild

I am excited to share our panda story, now on newsstands in the August issue of National Geographic Magazine. Tremendous gratitude to the incredible team in China working to protect these magical bears and to my colleagues at National Geographic for giving me the opportunity to share this incredible story.

This journey turned out to be one of the most unimaginable explorations I’ve ever had. It is not that anyone hasn’t seen a panda; we all have. But after going to China multiple times, getting to know the people, getting to understand the pandas and learning to really think like a panda, it kind of blew my mind.

In a region where bad environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception and is a testament to the perseverance and efforts of Chinese scientists and conservationists. By breeding and releasing pandas, augmenting existing populations and protecting habitat, they may be on their way to successfully saving their most famous ambassador and in the process put the wild back into an icon. Pandas’ irresistible power make them important ambassadors for ALL endangered species.

The images and the behind-the-scenes story of my work documenting pandas over three years were also covered by UPROXX, Vice, Huffington Post, Mother Nature Network, Tech Insider, and Business Insider.

National Geographic Live

I am excited to continue my tour as one of the featured National Geographic photographers at the National Geographic Live series in Kansas City May 10, 2016. My talk, titled “Rhinos, Rickshaws & Revolutions,” is about my exploration of the world from temples to war zones and rhinos to pandas. Tickets and information are available online. In the mornings, I will speak to more than 2,000 local school children, and later in the evenings for adult audiences. I will continue to give this talk in several other locations for National Geographic Live in 2016 and 2017. The full list of locations can be found here. See you out there!

Rhinos in Amsterdam Airport

If you are passing through the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, check out my World Press Photo rhino  image on a billboard there. The image features the conservation work of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust. Please follow their work on social media and consider a visit to Kenya to see them in action. Your support goes directly toward preserving wildlife and the communities protecting them.

Congratulations to: photo of the year winner Warren Richardson, Daniel Berehulak, Christian Bobst, Nancy Borowick, Mary F. Calvert, Mario Cruz, Abd Doumany, Sameer Al-Doumy, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, Corentin Fohlen, Kevin Frayer, David Guttenfelder, Niclas Hammarstrom, Paul Hansen, Chen Jie, Rohan Kelly, Bulent Kilic, John J. Kim, Matjaz Krivic, Tim Laman, Zhang Lei, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, Jonas Lindkvist, Mauricio Lima, Sebastian Liste, Dario Mitidieri, Greg Nelson, Kazuma Obara, Adriane Ohanesian, Daniel Ochoa de Olza, Vladimir Pesnya, Sergey Ponomarev, Warren Richardson, Zohreh Saberi, Roberto Schmidt, Brent Stirton, Sergio Tapiro, Tara Todras-Whitehill, Christian Walgram, Magnus Wennman, Christian Ziegler, Francesco Zizola, and Matic Zorman.

Skillshare

Skillshare came with me to Venice Beach, California, where I share tools and practices of documentary photography for an online class. There are instructions for an exercise you can do at home and I can view your work being posted to Skillshare. If you use the link here to sign up, you can receive three months of Skillshare Premium for 99 cents. Keep an eye on my Facebook page and Instagram for other special offers from Skillshare.

A dream trip to China for National Geographic

In April, I was in China for National Geographic Magazine working on my dream project about the rewilding of giant pandas. As conservation icons go, nothing quite beats the giant panda. Instantly recognizable worldwide, adored by billions, a virtual brand whose resemblance to anything wild is as tenuous as it is rare.

Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, Theodore and Kermit shot one, in 1928, in the wilds of Sichuan, China, the western world has coveted the clownish, adorable animal and zoos today pay millions of dollars to mount exhibits where panda “ambassadors” on loan from China never fails to attract a crowd.

There are approximately 1,864 giant pandas in the world

Many conservationists privately consider them a relict species: taxonomically unique, shy, and inexorably drifting towards extinction. Their breeding secrets have for decades resisted the prying efforts of zoos and their mountainous bamboo forests have been besieged and fragmented by agriculture.

Chinese scientists and their international counterparts have cracked the puzzle of successfully breeding pandas in captivity and now they are sending these captive born pandas back into the wild. In a region where bad environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception and a testament to Chinese conservationists’ perseverance and efforts. By breeding and releasing pandas, augmenting existing populations, and protecting habitats, China may be on its way to successfully saving its most famous ambassador, and in the process put the wild back into an icon.