China’s Endangered Wildlife

Giant Pandas & Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys

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Deep within the forested slopes in some of China's largest remaining natural areas, dwell two of Earth's most enigmatic and critically endangered animals.  With populations of both species separated and isolated in fragmented patches of forest by agriculture, villages, towns, highways and barren lands, these two spectacular creatures—the giant pandas and golden snub-nosed monkeys—are the charismatic subjects of our unique and image-intensive photo safari.
Panda bear twinsThe 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 sheltering 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 giant pandas.  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, the snow monkeys.
At the Foping National Nature Reserve we work with park rangers who feed the golden snub-nosed monkeys twice daily.  By special arrangement, we accompany the rangers to the feeding location where the monkeys are human-habituated and will climb down from the trees—often with youngsters in tow.  We expect to "shoot" females and their young at close range, along with the dramatically-colored and long-haired alpha males.

CONTACT US to learn about our Shanghai and Beijing trip extensions.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, is our gateway to the Bifengxia and Dujiangyan Giant Panda bases.  The Bifengxia center is the location to which most of the pandas housed at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Center were translocated after the devastating Sichuan earthquake of May 2008.  With an area of 144 acres housing more than 100 pandas, it is now the largest captive giant panda breeding facility in the world.  Here in this sprawling compound we shoot the iconic pandas within some of the facility’s 58 enclosures in a variety of camera-pleasing situations. There is far better access and photography time with giant pandas in these facilities than in any other “zoo” in the world.
Snub-nosed monkeyThe Dujiangyan Giant Panda Base serves several different functions.  As the home to many of the sub-adults that are born in the captive breeding program, this center houses small groups of juvenile pandas in each of its 30 enclosures. We photograph a variety of interactions—pandas climbing trees in their compounds, rolling and tumbling, eating and relaxing.  Dujiangyan is also the arrival location for virtually all the young pandas returned to China from those born to adults “loaned” to zoos throughout the world.  (The rental fee for pandas “loaned” to international zoos is one million dollars per year!)
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 are one of the most remarkable archeological discoveries of all time.

Read Wayne Lynch's Trip Report from our 2019 China's Endangered Wildlife tour.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from home.

Day 2 (Oct 18 in Shanghai)
Arrive at Shanghai Pudong International Airport and transfer to our Shanghai city center hotel. Meet in the hotel lobby at 6 PM for dinner at a nearby restaurant. (D)

Day 3
We fly to Chengdu in the morning. From this bustling city we have short drive to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (AKA the Chengdu Panda Zoo) for our first panda photography session. This facility has more of a city garden park atmosphere than the other panda centers we visit on this trip and houses more than 80 giant pandas, several red pandas and a few other non-native animals. With luck, if timing and weather are conducive to allowing them outside, we hope to photograph 3-month-old giant pandas in their nursery enclosure.

Panda bear eating bambooThe endangered giant panda is found only in western China. Because of human encroachment, the panda's habitat is now reduced to six isolated regions, mainly in Sichuan. An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 wild pandas live in the mountains within the rim of the Tibetan Plateau. A type of bamboo called arrow bamboo is their favorite food, but because bamboo is a poor nutrient source, they must eat over 80 pounds of it a day! The giant pandas’ foraging area is often limited by the type of bamboo found within their home range, and their habitat is becoming progressively smaller due to expanding agricultural practices, human population expansion, and logging. The lifespan of pandas in the wild is unknown, but pandas in captivity typically live from 14 to 20 years. (BLD)

Days 4–6
Commuting from our central location in Chengdu we travel daily to one of three additional giant panda breeding facilities, each of them, depending on traffic, is about two hours from our upscale hotel. The breeding facilities are usually referred to as “Panda Bases” from the Chinese name to English. These include the Dujiangyan Panda Base, the New Wolong Panda Base, and the Bifengxia Giant Panda Breeding Center. Each of these facilities has a somewhat different look and feel to their panda breeding enclosures. All of them provide an exceptional amount of access to the pandas from large lumbering adults to roly-poly youngsters.

In these compounds there are opportunities to photograph pandas in semi-natural looking situations; as they climb trees, feed on bamboo while sitting on the ground, and climb or lounge on “playground” equipment set up to keep them amused. Within the compounds you have flexibility to roam and photograph at your leisure. Most enclosures house several pandas. We decide on a daily-basis which of these facilities to visit depending on weather forecasts as well as what we may learn about current happenings at these facilities that may affect our photography experience.

The Dujiangyan Panda Base is located in the Shiqiao (Stone Bridge) Village of Qingchengshan. This new facility covers an area of 126 acres and serves several functions. It receives those young animals born in international zoos upon repatriation, houses young non-breeders, and acts, in part, as the panda rescue and quarantine facility focusing on pandas rescued from the wild that are sick or injured so they can receive medical care and rehabilitation.

Red pandaThe recently opened New Wolong Panda Base in Gengda was built following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when the former Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Center was destroyed. There are now over 30 pandas residing at the center. The center is still within the large Wolong Nature Reserve but divided into two sections. It is a Panda base integrating scientific research, captive breeding and reintroduction into the wild. Photographically it offers the potential of a mountain background.

Situated at the top of the Bifengxia Mountain area with elevations from 3,630 to 5,940 feet, the first stage of Bifengxia Giant Panda Breeding Center was completed in 2003. Within the 144-acre center, each enclosure covers an area of about one-quarter acre and provides naturalistic outdoor settings ideally conducive to panda portraiture. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, most of the 63 captive pandas at the devastated Wolong Nature Reserve were moved to Bifengxia. Soon thereafter, the world’s first twin pandas were born at the center. In the succeeding years, scores of panda cubs have been born at Bifengxia.

Each day we “shoot” pandas in their open enclosures through mid-afternoon and then return to Chengdu where we spend the night. (BLD)

Day 7
This morning we return to the Chengdu Panda Zoo. Following lunch, we board one of China’s amazing high-speed trains to Foping and then transfer to our unique 4-star mountain hotel in one of the largest remaining forest habitats in China. (BLD)

Days 8–10
China's terra cotta warriorsMorning dawns at the Foping Panda Valley in the forested Qinling Mountains of central China. Our goal here is to concentrate on the valley’s population of endangered Qinling golden snub-nosed monkeys. 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.

In this 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 six photography sessions with the monkeys. (BLD)

Day 11
Following a final photo shoot with the monkeys we travel to Xi’an by high-speed train in the evening. (BLD)

Day 12
This morning we photograph the famed 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. Later in the afternoon we fly to Beijing with accommodations at the airport hotel. (BLD)

Day 13 (Oct 29 from Beijing)
Depart Beijing Capital International Airport on flights home. (B)

Activity Advisory:Golden snub-nosed monkeys move freely about the forest coming down to the trail for their twice-daily feedings. During our visit, expect a walk of approximately one mile (each way) with an elevation gain of about 300 feet—at your own pace—to reach the monkey feeding areas. The return walk is gradually downhill. Following our morning shoot we return to our hotel for lunch and a short break and then revisit the monkey feeding location for another shoot in the afternoon. Porters will be available to carry camera gear for an extra fee.

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

China’s Endangered Wildlife

Oct 17, 2020 - Oct 29, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposit only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of trip fee
100% of trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

China’s Endangered Wildlife: Moderate Activity Level

Commercial aircraft, high speed train and bus transportation.  Easy walking on paved walkways at panda breeding centers.  Hiking over worn trails—with occasional roots and rocks—possibly as far as one and a half miles each way (up hill on the way in) to find the feeding location for golden monkeys.  Hike is done twice daily.

Trip Details
Oct 17 - Oct 29, 2020
Fee: $7,595 from Shanghai, China depart Beijing
Deposit: $1,000
Limit: 14 participants
Activity Level: ModerateModerate
  • The equivalent of 3 full days of photography at several of China's most important giant panda breeding centers
  • Photography access to dozens of photogenic giant pandas
  • Three and a half days of photography with golden snub-nosed monkeys in the Qinling Mountains
  • Shoot the world-famous Terracotta Army at Xi’an
  • Internal trip airfare and modern high-speed train trip included in tour fee
Tour Leaders
Wayne Lynch

Wayne Lynch