Deep within the high forested slopes in some of China's largest remaining natural areas, dwell two of Earth's most enigmatic and endangered primates. Separated and isolated by almost a thousand miles and surrounded by agriculture, villages, towns and barren lands, these two spectacular species of snub-nosed monkeys are the subjects of our unique and highly productive primate photo safari.
The biologically rich Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi Province form an important east-west watershed divide between China's two great rivers, the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) and the Huang He (Yellow) River. In the towering broadleaf woodlands of these "Szechuan Alps," the Qinling golden snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus roxellana qinlingensis) share this protected habitat with some of China's rarest plants and animals, including clouded leopards, takin and the iconic giant panda. Cold winter winds buffet these forests and snow occurs frequently within the "golden-hair monkey" habitat range. These amazing monkeys can withstand colder average temperatures than any other non-human primates—including Japanese macaques.
At the Foping National Nature Reserve we work with park rangers who feed these golden snub-nosed monkeys twice daily. By special arrangement we accompany the rangers to the feeding station where the monkeys are human-habituated and come down from the trees—often with babies in tow. We are there near the peak of the birthing season and we expect to "shoot" females and their babies at close range, along with the dramatically colored and long-haired alpha males.
Near the border with Myanmar—between the easternmost edge of the dry Tibetan Plateau and the Central Chinese Plain—the high-altitude mixed conifer/broadleaf forests form the green mantle cloaking the misted peaks of the Hengduan Mountains in Yunnan Province. This is home to an even rarer primate—the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), also known as the black snub-nosed monkey.
An elusive species, Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys were not studied in depth until the late 1990s—and rarely photographed. They are found at a higher altitude—from 9,800 feet to over 14,000 feet in elevation—than any other primate, except for man. The mainly black coat is long and shaggy with a contrasting white front and flanks. Males can have particularly long white hairs on their flanks. They sport gaudy deeply pink lips framed by yellow-gray facial and shoulder hairs. Noses, as per their name, are unusual—nasal bones are absent, nostrils upturned.
At the Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park near Tacheng we again accompany rangers to feeding stations where we have unfettered access to these monkeys—also at the height of their birthing period. In this beautiful forest our group is able to shoot exciting close-up portraits, as well as stunning arboreal "treescapes" featuring the snub-nosed monkeys, in habitat, as an integral feature of the larger landscape.
Capping off our trip is a visit to the famous Terracotta Army of Xi’an. These iconic treasures are certainly to be included among the most remarkable relics of ancient China and one of the most remarkable archeological discoveries of all time.
Join us for some photogenic "monkey business." Few photographers have enjoyed the unique rewards of capturing China's incredible snub-nosed monkeys.
Depart from home.
Day 2 (May 7 in Beijing)
Arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport and transfer to our Beijing city center hotel. Meet in the hotel lobby at 6 PM for dinner at a nearby restaurant. (D)
Fly to Xi’an. With over 3,000 years of recorded history, this capital of 12 dynasties was once the starting point of the Silk Road. This afternoon we photograph the famous Terracotta Army—more than 6,000 life-size statues of warriors created to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor to unite China. The Terracotta Army has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (BLD)
A 130-mile (215 km) morning drive brings us to Foping Panda Valley in the forested Qinling Mountains of central China. This is the habitat of the giant and red pandas, takin, snow leopard, Asiatic black bear and crested ibis. Our goal here is to concentrate on the valley’s population of endangered Qinling golden snub-nosed monkeys. In a scenic valley amid a temperate montane forest a large population of golden snub-nosed monkeys can be photographed as they are fed by local wildlife rangers during morning and afternoon feedings. We have scheduled seven photography sessions with the monkeys—our first session is this afternoon. (BLD)
For these three days we have morning and afternoon photography sessions with the golden snub-nosed monkeys at their forest feeding location. The "golden-hair monkey"—as the Chinese call it in English—is one of the most unusual primates in the world and aptly named. The head, neck and underparts are bright gold, especially in males, and the yellow-red to bright orange-red coat is strung through with a layer of long silver threadlike hairs that catch the forest-filtered light. The species was long hunted for that golden pelt and—like many other species—for use in traditional medicines. (BLD)
We return to Xi’an in time for a late afternoon flight to Chengdu. Time permitting, we can download and have photo critique time this evening. (BLD)
In the early morning we fly to Shangri-La, located on the border with Tibet. Formerly known as Zhongdian, the city was renamed for the fabled paradise in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon
in 2001 in an effort to promote tourism after logging operations were banned due to deforestation. Shangri-La, at over 10,000 feet (3200 meters), sits on a high plateau among lofty snow-capped mountains and deep river gorges.
We drive for 3 hours along the Mekong River to Tacheng for the next stage of photography at the Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park. We have our first session with the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys this afternoon. Our lodging for the next several nights is conveniently located at the entrance to the park. (BLD)
We enjoy three full days of photography at the Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park—home to eight different troops ranging in size from 20 to 300 members, with a regional population of 800 to 1,000 endangered monkeys. The loss of habitat and hunting pressure has contributed to their decline by isolating and fragmenting the population throughout this mountainous and deeply-valleyed region. Although hunting snub-nosed monkeys has been banned since 1975, enforcement is difficult. Originally part of a larger and more far-ranging wild group, our photo subjects are protected in a special reserve. Now habituated, the monkeys are fed by park staff. (BLD)
Following a morning photo session with the snub-nosed monkeys we drive back to Shangri-La in time for late afternoon and sunset photography at the massive Tibetan Buddhist Sumtseling Monastery. (BLD)
After photographing Shangri-La in the golden hues of the early morning light and photo-
exploring this Tibetan city, we fly to Kunming. (BLD)
We fly from Kunming to Shanghai. If time and group enthusiasm permit, we visit the Bund, the iconic riverfront area adjacent to our hotel where colonial architecture photogenically contrasts with Shanghai’s modern Pudong skyline—especially when lit at night. (BLD)
Day 16 (May 21 from Shanghai)
Depart Shanghai Pudong International Airport on flights home. (B)
A note regarding elevation: Our hotel in Shangri-La is situated at 10,000 feet elevation and elevations in Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park range between 9,180 feet and 10,170 feet. We expect to photograph the snub-nosed monkeys at about 9,800 feet. If high elevations pose a health problem or concern about participation on this trip, potential participants should consult their doctor before registering.