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Russian Far East

Tracking Amur Leopard

Will Bolsover is the Founder of Natural World Safaris, a specialist tour operator based in Brighton, UK. The company organises logistically complex trips to remote places with the potential for extraordinary wildlife encounters, from photographing polar bears in Svalbard, to diving with blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka. In February 2017, he road tested FIREPOT’s meals during a reconnaissance trip in the Russian Far East, where he’s working with local scientists to develop a specialist itinerary around the rare Amur Leopard. Sam Selby caught up with him on his return:

What made you want to travel 11 different time zones when your chances of seeing this cat are so slim? I love this place. I have been three times. On the second occasion, our party of three saw a Siberian tiger in the wild within 10 minutes of arriving in the territory. When there are just 480 of these animals left in the world, you’ve got to hold out hope for the Amur Leopard too: 70 or 80 of them, according to official records. Even if you don’t see one in the flesh, it’s incredible to walk their forest, especially in the Russian winter when everything is shrouded in deep snow. Their footprints are clear and haunting. We collect camera trap footage too.

Pictured left to right: Amur Leopard (c) Land of the Leopard; Researchers in Land of the Leopard; Camera trap image by Yuri Shibnev

Who is doing what to save these cats? The future of Russia’s big cats has Putin’s support (there’s even an Amur tiger named after him), but it’s the people on the ground who blow my mind: rangers, scientists, vets — all working in extremely challenging circumstances. I came away feeling very confident the leopard will survive, in spite of all the pillaging man has committed in its habitat over the last hundred years. The Land of the Leopard, where these pictures were taken, has a long history of success, driven by a highly committed group of Russian conservationists.

Why FIREPOT? I’m not great with Russian food, to be honest. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t taste of much. I’d fill up on Siberian pelmeni if I could, but I’m also limited with what I can eat because I’m gluten-free. On these kinds of trips, we sometimes bring our own food to the remote cabins where the rangers and scientists are based, and where we lodge for a few days. FIREPOT fills a very big hole: it’s filling, tasty and keeps my spirits up.

What’s the next big trip? I’m headed to Svalbard again in the spring, and I’m working on a Congo River expedition for a private client group who want to visit the ‘love monkeys’ (Bonobos). But the trip I’m really excited about? Antarctica in November. We’ve chartered an ice-breaker. The award-winning wildlife photographer Andy Rouse is leading the trip. The combination of his expertise and our itinerary is wilderness gold.

Pictured left to right: Scientist in Land of the Leopard; FIREPOT food in the field; Will Bolsover on location