China's Endangered Wildlife A SQUIVER PHOTO TOUR

The Holocene extinction

It’s frightening but true: our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals - the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times that background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

We wanted to do a Squiver Dinosaurs tour, but then we heard they're all extinct. (Image by Kerem Beyit)

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us - humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities: habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming. In comparison: before humans evolved, less than a single species per million went extinct annually.

If current rates of human destruction of the biosphere continue, half of all plant and animal species of life on earth will be extinct within 100 years.

Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the present extinction crisis is the fact that the majority of our closest relatives - the primates - are severely endangered. About 90 percent of primates live in tropical forests, which are fast disappearing. The IUCN estimates that almost 50 percent of the world’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe’s 5,491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1,131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

We realize that was a rather grim introduction, but we feel strongly about the conservation of endangered wildlife, and hopefully this intro has convinced you that wildlife conservation is really necessary. And now that we've got that out of the way, let's start with the fun part!

We are all familiar with the so-called endangered charismatic mega fauna, such as polar bear, rhino, tiger and panda, and you may even have photographed some of them. But there are other, lesser known endangered animals that are just as photogenic, and some of them live in China.

On this unique trip we will photograph two species of snub-nosed monkeys and two species of pandas.

Golden snub-nosed monkeys.

Snub-nosed what?

Snub-nosed monkeys are a group of Old World monkeys, and they live in Asia, with a range covering southern China as well as the northern parts of Vietnam and Myanmar. These monkeys get their name from the short stump of a nose on their round faces, with nostrils arranged forward. They have relatively multicolored and long fur, particularly at the shoulders and backs. They grow to a length of 51 to 83 cm with a tail of 55 to 97 cm.

Snub-nosed monkeys inhabit mountain forests up to a height of 4,000 m, in the winter moving into the deeply secluded regions. They spend the majority of their life in the trees. They live together in very large groups of up to 600 members, splitting up into smaller groups in times of food-scarcity, such as in the winter. Groups consist of many more males than females. They have territorial instincts, defending their territory mostly with shouts. They have a large vocal repertoire, calling sometimes solo while at other times together in choir-like fashion.

Expect to return with a lot of images of an animal most people have never seen before.

Golden snub-nosed monkey

The golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) is endemic to a small area in temperate, mountainous forests of central and Southwest China. They inhabit these mountainous forests of Southwestern China at elevations of 1,500-3,400 m above sea level.

The golden snub-nosed monkey is endangered due to habitat loss. For instance, lichens are the main staple of the monkey's diet and dead trees have the greatest lichen coverage. Unfortunately, dead trees are harvested, thus reducing the quality of the habitat and availability of food. The monkey is a highly selective feeder, so damage to its habitat seriously impacts the species.

Males have an even bluer face, and longer hair.

Mating may occur throughout the year but peaks in the month of October. This approximates gestation at 6–7 months in length. The golden snub-nosed monkey gives birth from March to June, so chances are we will see some cute little baby golden snub-nosies!

Black snub-nosed monkey

Black snub-nosed monkey

The black snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), also known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, is an endangered primate species. It is threatened by habitat loss.

The black snub-nosed monkey is a large, stocky and well-furred primate belonging to the leaf-monkey Colobinae subfamily. Despite its morphological distinctiveness and noteworthy biology this is one of the lesser known primate species. In recent years, however, knowledge about the behavior and ecology of the black snub-nosed monkey has grown. Lack of information is mainly a result of difficult research conditions due to the monkey's semi-nomadic lifestyle, elusive nature and inhospitable habitat with extremely steep hillsides, impenetrable bamboo thickets, freezing winter climate with snow as well as damp and foggy summers with minimum visibility.

This species has a highly restricted distribution in the biodiversity hotspot of the Yunling Mountains which border the Himalaya range. Only 17 groups with a total population of less than 1,700 animals have survived in northwest Yunnan and neighboring regions in the Autonomous Prefecture of Tibet. Group size is small, typically only 20 to 60. Groups of over 100 have never been observed. The territory of each group varies from 20 to 135 square km.

We will be able to get quite close to the monkeys when they're foraging for food.

The black snub-nosed monkey was almost completely unknown until the 1990s. The fact that no single zoo outside China has ever kept the black snub-nosed monkey in captivity has contributed to the enigmatic status of this species. The black snub-nosed monkey lives in one of the most extreme environments of any nonhuman primate. Its habitat is either pure temperate coniferous forest or deciduous/evergreen broadleaf and coniferous forest. The highest recorded altitude of a group of this species is 4700 m. The black snub-nosed monkey lives in very large super-groups which are made up of single-male core families or harems. The monkey moves fast and far in a cohesive group and covers vast areas in search of lichens and other seasonally available food items.

After our visit, you can take one of the babies home. If only!

The reproduction cycles of black snub-nosed monkey is generally similar to that of golden snub-nosed monkeys, except the time of birth is often two to three months later due to colder climate. Like most primates, the snub-nosed monkey gives birth at night, making it difficult for researchers to observe. A rare observation of a daytime birth found a multiparous female assisting another female in the birthing process, similar to human midwifery practice!

They don't call me the panda whisperer for nothing.

Giant panda

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, lit. "black and white cat-foot"), also known as panda bear or simply panda, is a bear native to south central China, and it is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals. It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda. Though it officially belongs to the carnivores, the giant panda's diet is over 99% bamboo. Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.

The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province. As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the giant panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. The giant panda is an endangered species, threatened by continued habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity. The giant panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. Studies estimate that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild.

While the dragon has often served as China's national emblem, internationally the giant panda appears at least as commonly. As such, it is becoming widely used within China in international contexts, for example as one of the five mascots of the Beijing Olympics.


On this tour we will visit two different locations to photograph both the giant panda and the red panda.

Day to day program

Day 1: Xi'an

Everyone should arrive at Xi'an Airport for the start of the tour. We meet all participants for a welcome dinner in the very comfortable hotel we selected.

Xi’an is over 3,000 years old and has been the capital of 12 different dynasties. It has been known under various names, most notably as Chang’an. Xi’an used to be the starting point of the Silk Road, where camels were loaded for their long and perilous journey to Central Asia. Nowadays it is an important center for the central government’s drive to develop western china. As an economic center for the region, Xi’an is developing fast; aviation for instance is already an important industry for the city.

Day 2: Xian to Foping

Today, we drive 4 hours or take high-speed train to the location where we will be photographing the Golden snub-nosed monkey. We will already have our first shooting session with them in the afternoon. The climate is humid and quite cold in Spring and Winter, it’s rainy and cool in Summer and Autumn.

Day 3-4: Foping

We will spend two full days photographing the golden monkey. There will be two sessions per day. Both in the morning and in the afternoon we will go and follow the monkeys, as they forage in the forest.

If you don't like baby golden snub-nosed monkeys, this is not the trip for you.

Day 5: Foping to Chengdu

After another 2 hour photo session in the morning, we drive 4 hours (or alternatively, we take the high-speed train) back to Xi’an. From Xi'an we take a flight to Chengdu, "panda capital" of the world.

Day 6: Chengdu

This morning we drive to the panda research center.

In order to better preserve the giant panda, the Chengdu municipal government founded this research center in March 1987. There are around 80 giant pandas, red pandas, and some other animals.

We visit the center and photograph the Giant panda, as well as the red panda. They usually have adult and sub-adult pandas at this location.

The red panda doesn't really look like a panda.

Day 7: Pandas!

Today, we we have another opportunity to photograph the giant panda again, as well as the red panda. And if the breeding program is doing what it's supposed to be doing (make little big pandas), we hope to be able to photograph young giant pandas as well.

The giant panda is an endangered animal found only in western China. Because of human encroachment, the panda’s habitat is now reduced to six isolated patches mainly in Sichuan. They estimate that around 1,000-1,500 wild pandas still live in the mountains in the rim of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Day 8: Chengdu to Shangri-La

After the morning photo session with another giant panda, we drive to Chengdu airport and fly to Shangri-La, where we arrive in the early evening.

Shangri-La is located in the northwest of Yunnan Province, the border with Tibet and Sichuan Province. There are three rivers running through the area, all paralel to each other. The three rivers are Jinsha River, Nu River and Lancang River. Jinsha River is the upper section of Yangtze River. Nu River flows through Myanmar into the Indian Ocean. Lancang River flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and is called Mekong River. Geographically, Shangri-La is on the Tibetan Plateau, and has the deepest gorges in China (Tiger Leaping Gorge), and lots of snowy mountains like Bama Snow Mountain. Elevation is between 1,503 meters to 5,309 meters above sea level. The elevation of Shangri-La Town is 3,280 meters above sea level. The majority of the population of Shangri-La is Tibetan.

Day 9: Shangri-La to black snub-nosed monkeys

After breakfast, we drive along the Mekong River for 7 hours to where the snub-nosed monkeys live, which is high up in the mountains (approx. 2,800 - 3,100 meters above sea level).

There are 8 different family groups, with around 90 monkeys per group. The monkeys are followed constantly by researchers, in order to learn more about their behaviour. Their main food source is the new bud of dragon spruce, bamboo shoots and Chinese Usnea. The male’s weight is around 30 kilogram.

Day 10-12: Snub-nosed monkeys

During these three days, we will photograph the black snub-nosed monkeys, while they forage in the forest.

Day 13: Shangri-La to Kunming

After morning photo session, we drive back to Shangri-La. Here we will catch a flight to Chengdu, which is the best international hub in the region. Yes, it's that time again - the end of the tour...

Day 14: Fly home

After breakfast, everyone is flying home.

Accommodation & Food

Some locations we go to on this tour are not used to catering for western tourists. This means that the restaurants will serve Chinese food. Not western Chinese, but Chinese Chinese. You will experience the traditional cuisine, and it won't resemble anything from your local take-away. No need to worry though, because we will make sure there will be no Chihuahua Stir Fry or Fried Bats with Black Bean Sauce. Some of the hotels we will stay at in the bigger cities will have an international menu.

Sorry, no panda dumplings.

The weather

The areas we go to for the monkeys on this tour are high up in the mountains, in a forest. At this time of year, temperatures are mild (10 to 15 degrees Celcius), but it can be quite humid. You can expect rainy days, but also have warm sunny days with 25C on this trip. This means that you will have to bring a rain coat, rain pants, and rain covers for your camera bag and equipment. But the weather being the weather, it's hard to predict what is going to happen exactly.



18 April - 1 May 2017 (14 days)

26 April - 9 May 2018 (14 days)

16 April - 29 April 2019 (14 days) new tour date!

Tour leaders: Marsel van Oosten, Daniella Sibbing, and local guide

Fee: 7,100 USD (single supplement 750 USD) from Xi'an, China. Tour fee for 2019 estimated at 7,600 USD.

Deposit: 1,500 USD

Group size: 12 participants

Photography level: all experience levels

Fitness level: moderate. We will be viewing the monkeys in a forest in the mountains. This means there is some hiking involved to reach them. The last location is at an altitude around 2500 meter.

What's included

  • 3 domestic flights, including airport tax
  • English speaking local guide
  • all local transport
  • all accommodation
  • all meals
  • drinking water, soft drinks
  • all tips & gratuities
  • daily briefings
  • photographic instructions
  • in the field tips & tricks
  • image reviews
  • loads of fun

And what's not

  • international airfares
  • expenses of personal nature
  • alcoholic beverages
  • insurances
  • visa

Come and join us!

We hope that you have enjoyed reading through this digital brochure and that you'll join us in China! If you want to book the Guilin extension as well, please add this to the comment field in the booking form.

Please note: Itinerary may be subject to change. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by our local guide.

All images ©Marsel van Oosten
Created By
Marsel van Oosten


All photographs ©Michael Deng

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