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Panda-tracking tales from China’s Anzihe reserve

It turns out that the giant pandas from Chinese nature reserves are a little more elusive than many may think, and it took a fair bit of grit and determination trekking through unexplored mountainous terrain for adventure photographer Kyle Obermann to find them.

But the nine-day expedition through the Anzihe Nature Reserve photographing the famous giant panda’s habitat was an opportunity of a lifetime, and one Kyle wasn’t about to pass up.
We caught up with him to hear more about his trip to China and why it was such an honour for him to be asked to join the expedition, following the Path of the Panda.

Anzihe Nature Reserve, China

“My journey to China actually started off with me studying Chinese language in undergrad alongside environmental studies and politics. After that, it made sense for me to go to China and see what I had gotten myself into. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing when I arrived, but I slowly began to see how diverse the country was and how misrepresented it has been to the world. Which is to say, while the world fascinates itself with Chinese smog and pollution, there’s a whole other side to the story – and that’s the fact that much of china is wild, magnificent, and worth exploring.

My trip to the Anzihe Nature reserve spawned from my work as a contract photographer and consultant for Conservation International’s (CI) China program. CI was and still is very involved with funding environmental preservation and research at Anzihe, so it was one of the sites I spent the most time at while shooting for them. CI supported my application to the local government so I could enter what they call the hexing (main core) of the nature reserve, (which is where the whole expedition took place).

Anzihe Nature Reserve, China

As far as I know, I own the privilege of being the first western photographer to photograph the hexingu and being in a place that has never been documented before is thrilling, but it also adds a ton of pressure to photograph it well. It’s so important to create an accurate representation for others and that gives you the motivation to pull out your camera and shoot even when every cell in your body is resisting.

The first two days when we were still above the tree line were very enjoyable. Every step was a new one, and it was a really a special feeling with my guides – the Sichuan men – travelling through the terrain as casually as they would for a morning commute. On the last two days it got much worse, however, as we descended below the tree line and had to hack our campsites out of the soaking undergrowth and go through a repetitive process of finding and losing the animals trails we were trying to track. But that’s all part of the price you pay for going to someplace completely unknown – one moment it’s marvellous; the next all you want to do is go home.

Anzihe Nature Reserve, China

I enjoy the physical and mental challenge just as much as I enjoy the photography though. For me, it’s kind of a combination of athletics and photography, and I love it. I think whenever we explore that thing which is unknown to us, or attempt to find our path in it all, we begin to feel humbled by nature. Anzihe Nature Reserve, ChinaWe also realize that us and nature are not separate, but rather we are an intimate part of it. I think we only come to this state when we challenge ourselves to leave modern comforts behind and go back into the wild. How we do that though will of course be different for everyone.

Passion and grit are the characteristics you need most when the going gets tough, and it will more often than not. If you want to follow this path, then you need a fire for what you do and constantly remind yourself why you do it. Be ready to get lost, tighten your belt, jump into the unknown, and there will be nothing more rewarding. I am a firm believer that hard work and passion pays off eventually, you just have to stick with it. Follow your gut and go straight in the opposite direction to everyone else. You will have no regrets!

Anzihe Nature Reserve, China

To read more about Kyle’s journey to the core of the Anzihe Nature reserve, click here.

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