On Assignment
Follow photographers as they travel the world and file reports from the field for National Geographic magazine.
Posted Nov 17,2008


Hello, I wanted to share this with everyone. I have been voted the Wildlife Photographer of the Year for 2008. This is a great honor for myself, the snow leopard and National Geographic magazine!  The snow leopard story appeared in the June issue of NGM.

I want to thank the Editor in Chief Chris Johns, (for giving me this opportunity and believing in me), my photo Editor Kathy Moran, (my guiding light), Editor at Large Nick Nichols, Emilene Ostlind, Jenna Pirog, and the whole staff at NGM.


I would also like to thank Dr. George Schaller, whose book Stones of Silence showed the snow leopard--and a passionate scientist--for the very first time.

Thank you to the Museum of Natural History in London, the BBC and WildPhotos for holding this important event. The show of all the winners at the Museum of Natural History in London is truly an amazing window on the talent of the winning photographers and our natural world--if any of you are in London please visit. A big thank you to all the judges also!

I had the expert knowledge and unselfish assistance of two friends--Tashi Tundup, from Snow Leopard Conservancy India and Raghu Chundawat from Snow Leopard Trust in Delhi. I cannot thank you both enough.

This was a real collaboration between the snow leopard and myself. Hopefully this award will help further worldwide interest in the beauty and importance of the snow leopard and understanding of our need to protect it. I applaud National Geographic for making this story possible.

Want to help? Please visit these websites of organizations working with the snow leopard:


Here is a link to the BBC news item about the award.

Thank you, and “Save the snow leopard.”

Posted by Steve Winter | Comments (17)
Filed Under: Follow Steve Winter, Photography
Posted Aug 27,2008

Hi everyone, I felt with such an important iconic species as the tiger—the largest cat in the world—I wanted to tell you more about the tiger meeting I just attended (see my last blog) in Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand.

One disturbing fact that I learned, (and there are many), is that tigers now occupy just 7 percent of their historic range, and have 40 percent less habitat than was estimated 10 years ago.

Camera trap images from the tiger study in Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand. Photos: Steve Winter.

At the meeting, the researchers outlined the three primary threats that face tigers. First of all, tigers are heavily hunted for their pelts and other body parts for traditional Chinese medicine, and are killed in retribution for preying on livestock or simply just out of fear when they move into or near human settlements.

Secondly, their prey are disappearing: no food, no tigers.

And lastly, tiger habitat continues to disappear and is becoming more fragmented as land is converted for development and agriculture.

Tiger experts estimate that there are about 425,000 square miles of tiger habitat still available, but just 23 percent of this is protected. Thus, tiger conservationists have to think beyond protected areas.

Because tigers are wide-ranging creatures, the bigger the landscape the better for the cats. Panthera, WCS and others are concentrating their conservation efforts on large landscapes that have both prey and tigers—that are, or have the potential to be connected.

The meeting in Thailand went on for five days—and with all this new information I also learned how history seems to play a large part in how people view tigers. Some consider them to be a dangerous pest, wishing they would vanish, while others hold them in awe and are horrified that they are disappearing, aware that the world would be much less rich without these majestic creatures.

Saw Htun and Saw Thoo from the Myanmar program and Dr. Saksit Simcharoen from Huai Kha Khaeng talking tigers and looking at tiger print plaster casts.

Dr. George Schaller, Vice President of Panthera, began his seminal tiger study in 1963 in Kahna, India, which resulted in his groundbreaking book The Deer and the Tiger, published in 1967. Called “the bible of tiger research”, George began a revolution in wildlife biology regarding how to view predators in large landscapes and what is needed for their survival, issues that continue to be relevant to this day as human populations continue to swell.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, President and CEO of Panthera, began large cat studies in Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand, in 1987, and in 1990 began country-wide tiger surveys. He was thrilled to be back at HKK and to see the progress there over the past twenty years—HKK is truly a stronghold for tigers in Thailand.

A few of the presentations at the meeting really stood out for me. In some areas, like India’s Western Ghats, tiger populations have grown exponentially over the last 20 years, with a combination of increased patrols, which reduced poaching of both tigers and their prey, and voluntary resettlement of villages out of protected areas. This very effective program, started by Dr. Ullas Karanth, director of WCS India, has shown dramatic results. Dr. Karanth, who began his long-term tiger research in Nagarahole, India in 1986, was deeply inspired by the work of George Schaller’s work in Kahna.

Nick Brickle and Beebach Wibisono, WCS tiger researchers working in Indonesia, described particularly thorny conflicts between tigers and farmers. Tigers live in forested areas that abut crop fields where farmers raise corn. Wild pigs leave the forest to feast on the corn; tigers love to eat the pigs and follow them—and when farmers put out snares to catch the pigs, they also catch other wildlife, including tigers. These tigers are caught and either killed, or authorities are called and the tiger is shipped off to a zoo. The team radio collared one of these “caught” tigers and relocated it—back to the wild. If that animal comes near human settlements again, the team will know—as it is monitoring the tiger’s movements and a team will be sent out to try to scare it back into the forest with fireworks and firecrackers. This actually happened during the workshop. Nick and Beebach received a call that the tiger was moving close to a village and the team was dispatched with pyrotechnics!

In another amazing presentation, Dale Miquelle and John Goodrich talked about the Amur tiger they study in the Russian Far East and across the border into China. In the last five years, 10,000 snares have been removed from China alone—an astounding feat.

Dr. Dale Miquelle, director of WCS Russia, with a photo of a huge Amur Tiger.

But it takes more than individual studies to save tigers. It requires international cooperation and financial support of conservation programs.

Michael Cline and Tom Kaplan (founder of Panthera), became deeply involved in conservation initiatives because of their relationship with Alan. As very successful entrepreneurs, both were drawn to Alan’s passionate ability to get things done. Alan has created protected areas in every place he’s ever done research, it is literally his “no B.S”., get-the-job-done attitude they (and I) truly admire. As savvy businessmen, these men decided to  remove the bureaucratic road blocks that can hamper the ability of large conservation organizations to react quickly and easily to new information—or crises—by creating their own programs and organization.

Sometime back, Alan was dubbed the “Indiana Jones of Zoology” by The New York Times, which is kind of funny as another good friend and a mentor of mine was once nicknamed the “Indiana Jones of Photography”—National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols.

The bottom line is that in order to protect the natural world we live in we need greater understanding and better cooperation. Humans compete with many wild animals—creatures that can’t speak for or protect themselves,. The people that study tigers, many of whom are present at this meeting, and the people who support their research and help brainstorm innovative conservation initiatives, are giving tigers a voice—and more importantly—a chance.

Leopard caught on the second night of testing the new camera trap prototype. Notice most of his tail is missing!

Posted by Steve Winter | Comments (7)
Filed Under: Follow Steve Winter, Photography, Travel, Wildlife
Posted Aug 18,2008

August 18, 2008

Child by a tree

My time in Africa is coming to a close, as is the summer. By the time I return to the States on Saturday I will be two days shy of working or traveling an entire month straight without a single day off. Between assignments for National Geographic, freelance work and a quick stop in London for an exhibit and meetings with editors, it has been a whirlwind. There will be a week or so to edit and then it is time for goodbyes, packing the car and heading back to the Midwest. Going back to Ohio and school will seem like a vacation, but I have a feeling that I will miss this—as soon as I get caught up on sleep I'll wish I was on the road again, headed somewhere new.

Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted Aug 14,2008

(HUAI KHA KHAENG —THAILAND) Greetings from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in western Thailand, where I’m attending the second annual Tigers Forever meeting.

My work as a photographer with National Geographic often requires collaboration with some of the world’s preeminent scientists. Attending a conference such as this gives me the opportunity to meet the scientists who study and are trying to protect tigers across their entire range, from Bhutan to China and Russia to Indonesia--scientists who tease me, wondering why I would want to sit and listen to statistical reports for 12 hours a day! 

Vene Vongphet–Tiger Project Manager from Laos giving his presentation.


Many organizations and governments are represented here: Panthera Foundation, who sponsored the meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and WWF, all of whom are working in India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Russia and China, and the Director of Wildlife from the Government of Bhutan.

These researchers and officials have come together to share information and brainstorm about how to save tigers, in an annual review of a dynamic new initiative started in 2006 called Tigers Forever. Tigers Forever, a Panthera program in partnership with WCS uses a business model that sets goals and monitors success on the premise that tigers can be conserved and live forever if the correct measures are taken and populations are continually monitored.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera, opened the meeting, along with Colin Poole, Asia director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In a nutshell, Panthera and WCS are working to gain more partners for Tigers Forever—government, business, and both local and international wildlife conservation groups—to link and coordinate conservation efforts across Asia’s key remaining tiger habitat. Their goal: to increase tiger numbers across key sites by an average of at least 50 percent in ten years’ time.

Initial efforts focus on stopping the slaughter that is wiping out both the cats and their food source. That includes stopping poachers who kill tigers for the lucrative Asian traditional medicine trade and for the skin trade through stepped-up patrols, better government regulation and education. Better protection of tiger habitat also protects the prey that tigers need to survive: deer, wild boar, sambar, and other species. Other efforts focus on a tiger genetic corridor, through preserving and connecting tracts of remaining habitat. The other piece in the protection puzzle is trying to mitigate conflict between humans and tigers.

With abundant prey and proper protection, tigers can quite simply eat, relax, and mate—and numbers can rebound quickly. In some areas, such as India’s Western Ghats and in the Russian Far East, they already have, while in other areas, like Sumatra, they are disappearing rapidly.

Tigers Forever teams are currently conducting surveys to estimate both prey and tiger numbers throughout Asia. It is an incredible undertaking. Seeing photographs of the range of tiger terrain blows me away. Tigers live everywhere from vertical mountain peaks to the deepest rainforests full of all the creatures you imagine would live there.

This figure shows an example of a four-block transect—the method being used to collect data to estimate tiger numbers.

View of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.

It was great to listen to Alan talk about his time working in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary back in the mid-1980’s. Back then, he went to bed at night listening to gunfire, even machine guns: men in the forest poaching animals.

Now the park has constant patrols. The so-called “Smart Patrols” set up roadblocks to monitor people on roads that pass next to the park for poaching and illegal logging, and they watch for wild meat being sold in restaurants and markets.

As a result, the forest is thriving. A group of us walked a few hundred feet from the research station and saw gibbons, primates and countless birds. The tiger population 20 years ago was only a handful of animals – now they think they have 75 tigers here!

But the overall picture is mixed. In Indonesia, researchers estimate that they have lost 29 tigers in one year to poaching and human animal conflict; about 150 remain.

One incredible development in this mammoth undertaking is the creation of an entirely new kind of camera trap. Alan Rabinowitz is a very good friend of mine, and we have spoken frequently over many years about the need for a new type of camera, specifically the need for a digital camera that would fire as soon as an animal crosses its path without the lag time current models have. Cameras are needed that are inexpensive enough that you could literally “mine” a landscape with them, so theft and damage by elephants and other large animals wouldn’t matter so much. Panthera and TIgers Forever has put together a team of engineers working pro bono who have created exactly this. Panthera was begun by Dr. Tom Kaplan, a dynamic and passionate visionary. He funds his conservation vision and gives some of the best names in the world the opportunity to continue their work—like Dr. Rabinowitz as President and Dr. George Schaller as Vice President. Very impressive indeed.

Dr. Alan Rabinowitz talking with Dr. Saksit Simcharoen from WCS (right) whom he worked with for four years in the mid 1980’s here in Huai Kha Khaeng Thailand and Bivash Pandav WWF (center).

I use camera traps to get an intimate view of animals that are very secretive and difficult to photograph in person. Scientists use them to collect crucial data. Remote cameras provide important information about tiger populations, the abundance of their prey—and also sometimes on how many humans are passing through! But many researchers working in developing countries still have old film cameras, and film has limitations. There are only 36 frames, film and processing is expensive, and color film doesn’t work well in low-light situations. And high humidity—like that in the jungle—can make the film stick to itself.

Demonstrating the camera trap prototype.

Tiger caught on the first night of testing the new camera trap prototype.

Overall, these old camera traps lose more than 40 percent of possible image “captures”. These new remote cameras are a GIANT leap forward, and will allow scientists to obtain much more accurate animal census data. The world of wildlife biology will be changed once these cameras come on line! I will tell you more about what happened at the meeting in the near future.

Check it all out online at: www.panthera.org and www.tigersforever.org.

Tiger experts attending the conference.

Posted Aug 12,2008

August 12, 2008

Up, up, up. The air gets thin, my breath gets short. My legs keep pumping and I am gasping for breath like a fish out of water but the porters and trackers haven't even broken a sweat. Stupid out of shape mizungu. My feet go numb from the cold once I reach our destination and stop moving.  I am in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda with a team of researchers, escorted by a couple stoic Rwandan soldiers.

Rifle around the neck of a soldiler

It is a beautiful country, tainted by the history of the genocide. During my short stay the people were nothing short of amazing and warm.


Man sitting by a window at a bus stop, Rwanda

As I travelled back to catch a plane out of Kigali, the first thought that flew into my head was, "I've got to come back." Hopefully someday, sooner rather than later.

Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted Jul 29,2008

July 29, 2008

As I board my return flight in New Delhi, I realize this trip seemed to move a lot quicker than Peru. But experiencing India was a wonderful thing. The largest culture shock for me was the transportation. Think the worst near death experience you have ever had driving in the States and imagine it happening every 30 seconds or so over the course of a 5 hour drive. There was a point where my driver decided it would be a good idea to drive down the middle of the road in between two container trucks going more than 50 mph on the highway in the dark with maybe 12 inches to spare on each side.

I began my trip by flying into New Delhi before driving to Agra where I met up with my friend Michael Rubenstein. Michael has been based in Mumbai for almost a year now and was kind enough to keep me out of trouble and show me the ropes a bit. Thanks to him I managed to avoid eating anything that would put me in the bathroom for days and I learned how to put my foot down if anyone tried to take advantage of me.

I got up around 4:45 each morning to catch a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) over to the Taj Mahal. It is a stunning building that takes more than one viewing to truly appreciate. I was incredibly lucky to actually see some light in the morning, which is a rarity during monsoon season. The touts in Agra are very aggressive and the heat oppressive. India as a whole moves at a mind numbing pace, so after a few hours of shooting each morning I would return to the hotel, completely spent.

There was a small school in the backyard of my hotel and after an afternoon of watching the kids run around during recess I decided to wander over and see if they would let me visit for a bit. After a few minutes of explaining what I hoped to accomplish the powers that be granted permission and a wonderfully sweet woman guided me through the school, classroom to classroom. After a week of being barraged by people, I left the building with a huge smile, completely rejuvenated. The children had such an unbridled enthusiasm and the teachers seemed incredibly passionate, despite the lackluster teaching conditions. This marks the end of my first two-part assignment of the summer. Rumor has it there may be more travel ahead.

             Get Adobe Flash player
Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted Jul 15,2008

I turned 22 years old while traveling from D.C. to Peru for my first Geographic assignment. This is at once a dream and a terror for me. My first real day of the National Geographic internship I was so nervous I couldn't eat breakfast. The same went for the day I took the all-night flight down to South America. I saw dawn peek over the horizon upon arriving and I settled into my hotel and then wandered around Cusco, trying to fend off  a bit of altitude sickness. After having lived in Washington D.C. for a few weeks now, coming to a place that is so full of life took me by surprise. There were young people practicing Canco, a traditional Cusco dance, and a couple so caught up in their passion that the rest of the world seemed to melt away. Now I sit in my hotel room listening to the sounds of Cusco. The cars, the horns, the dogs, the beautiful lilting tune of flutes dancing through the streets at night. Tomorrow I will rise early to catch a train to Aguascalientes, where I will settle for the next couple days.


Teenagers practice Canco, a traditional dance in the city of Cusco, Peru.
Photograph by Matt Eich


A couple oblivious to the world.
Photography by Matt Eich

Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted Jul 13,2008

July 13, 2008


Today I started working on a web project at Machu Picchu. It is amazing to me how one man's discovery, some 100 years ago, has shaped the history and cultural identity of an entire country. It seems that if a people tried to build a city that would allow them to live as close to their deities as possible—this might be the place.

The morning started early. I tried to beat the crowds and get to Machu Picchu before the sun rose, to no avail. When I arrived (before 6am) the line stretched down the street. The 30-minute bus trek delivered us there before the sun broke over the mountains and a thick fog still hung in the air. On the bus I sat next to a woman who has been a tour guide here for seven years. As we whipped up the narrow, one-lane dirt roads overlooking the valley below, I asked her how often there were accidents. "All the time," she said with a smile, before saying that they were actually very rare.

Loneliness and boredom are two things that can potentially drag me down in a serious way when I'm on the road. On a shoot like this working hours are limited and once you are done for the day it can be hard to stay motivated. After a couple hours of sitting alone in a dark hotel room, I forced myself to get up and do something. Peeking outside, I saw hundreds—if not thousands—of flying insects congregating around the porch light on my fifth floor balcony. Looking like dancing embers rising from a fire, they were beautiful and chaotic. Even if the resulting images don't do the scene justice, it was enough to rejuvenate me and put a smile on my face.

             Get Adobe Flash player
Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (4)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted Jul 12,2008

July 12, 2008

Today I took the Vistadome train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. It can get pretty cold in Peru this time of year; I could see my breath on the air as we boarded the train. The sun rose and through the fogged glass revealed an ethereal world passing.


I made pictures as the world whipped by and it all felt like a dream. Upon arriving in Aguas Calientes, I checked into my hotel, and did a recon trip up to Machu Picchu to see what the next few days have in store for me.

             Get Adobe Flash player
Posted by Matt Eich | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Follow NGM Intern Matt Eich
Posted May 23,2008

Sorry everybody that I have been absent from the blog for a while. Gabe and I finally recovered from our mysterious illnesses but then I lost my satellite internet for a couple of weeks, and as the project winds down we've been putting in even longer hours than usual.

In the last month we've been spending a lot of time covering village areas on the periphery of the park. As important as the animals are the people who live with them.

On the southern border of Kaziranga sits the Kabi Anglong hills, an area that is one of the largest remaining forest blocks in Asia. It is a safe haven for wild animals that flee Kaziranga during monsoon flooding in July which can submerge most of the park from 1-5 days.

In these hills live the Karbi people, a number of different factions that have been relentlessly fighting for their own autonomous region. In essence it is a very dangerous region where outsiders are definitely not welcome, and violence ebbs and flows. Hence it has been incredibly difficult for me to get permission to enter the area. If not for the indispensable help of Kazi's Western Range Officer, P.K. Deka, we'd still be wondering how beautiful and exciting the Karbi hills really are.

Posted by Steve Winter | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Follow Steve Winter
- Advertisement -
Feed Icon RSS Syndication
Entries with Recent Comments
Tag Cloud
Please note all comments are reviewed by the blog moderator before posting.