Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip: Q & A with Trip Host Rafa Salvador
Do you love red pandas? Have a passion for photography? Then have we got a trip for you…
Introducing our new Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip. It’s like one of our ecotrips, but with an emphasis on photography. Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice looking to improve your skills, this trip offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get immersed in the distinctive landscape and biosphere of Eastern Nepal.
The Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip is provided in cooperation with Photofox LPG, a nature photography company that facilitates eco-conscious “photo adventures” worldwide. The trip will be hosted by Rafa Salvador, who has experience as a photographer in several countries including Costa Rica, Nepal, Scotland and Thailand. Rafa has organized trips for reputable wildlife organizations such as National Geographic, and with National Geographic Explorers, such as Molly Ferrill. We sat down with Rafa to discuss his background, how the phototrip came to be and what trip participants can expect.
RPN: Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved with photography.
Rafa: My background is in law. Through my journalism work, I naturally became inclined toward photography. After working as a sports photographer during my undergraduate years, I changed my focus to wildlife conservation. I became connected with a National Geographic photographer who was documenting wildlife tourism in Thailand. This rekindled my passion for photography, which led to the creation of photo tours.
RPN: What is main concept behind Photofox Adventures?
Rafa: The company provides full-immersion phototrips with an emphasis on education and ethical practices. Unfortunately, a lot of photography companies disregard animal welfare in pursuit of the “perfect shot”; likewise, nature tourism can have a negative impact on the environment when there’s a lack of knowledge and respect for nature. Our mission is to give people a chance to pursue their passion for nature photography in a more environmentally responsible way, and to educate them about animal welfare. In keeping with this ethos, we often partner with wildlife conservation organizations, such as Rainforest Animals Rescue Group and, most recently, Red Panda Network.
RPN: How did you connect with Red Panda Network?
Rafa: My interest in nature conservation led me to RPN. During a fundraising campaign to assist victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, I contacted RPN about the possibility of collaborating on a photo adventure. They were pleased with my experience organizing phototrips, wildlife photography skills and interest in protecting red pandas, and we decided to create the Himalyan Red Panda Phototrip.
RPN: How does attending the Himalayan Red Panda Phototrip benefit Red Panda Network and its mission?
Rafa: Your trip payment directly supports the community-based conservation initiatives of Red Panda Network, including the Forest Guardian program, which trains and employs local people as professional forest stewards. During the trip, you will have an opportunity to see firsthand how this is being carried out, as you visit villages and locations where the RPN is actively involved with red panda conservation and awareness.
RPN: Other than red pandas, what types of wildlife are trip participants likely to see?
Rafa: The mountains and forests we’ll be traveling through are home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including clouded leopards, Himalayan black bears, yellow-throated martens, Bengal foxes, golden jackals and Assam macaques, Additionally, more than 120 species of birds inhabit this region, including the Wood Snipe, Satyr Tragopan, Common Teal, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Maroon-backed Accentor, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, and the Rusty-fronted Barwing.
RPN: What kinds of equipment should trip participants bring with them?
Rafa: You’ll need to bring two kinds of equipment: hiking gear and photography equipment. For hiking, we recommend an 80-100Lt backpack and a 30Lt daypack with rain cover to carry binoculars, water bottle and extra clothing. Regarding photography equipment, the short answer is that this trip can be completed with only a camera, a telephoto zoom, a wide angle lens, a tripod, rain protection and a cable release. However, if you can afford it, we recommend additional gear, as listed here. It’s also important to bring electrical adapters for charging your camera equipment, including “Type D” Indian BS 546 and “Type C” European CEE 7/16.
Please keep in mind that you should bring all your camera gear on board with you during your flight to Nepal. Never check your camera gear as hold luggage. Check the flight regulations of each airline company to make sure your camera gear bag is suitable for carry-on; I use a Lowepro 500 AW bag and have never had any trouble traveling with it, but I recommend double-checking regardless.
RPN: Do trip participants need to have a certain level of photography experience?
Rafa: No, not at all! Any person at any skill level is welcome, from amateur to professional. Even non-photographers can have a great time on this trip—we don’t want to exclude anyone that is interested in joining.
RPN: Is there anything trip participants should be prepared for in terms of physical challenges or environmental conditions?
Rafa: Yes, this trip requires a medium level of fitness, due to the fact that we’ll be hiking through a wide range of altitudes and terrain. Also, because we’ll be trekking to higher elevations than what many participants are used to, there is always a possibility you may experience altitude sickness. Our trip leaders do everything they can to avoid this, including gradual elevation to allow for acclimation, and making sure everyone is well-hydrated. In any case, this phototrip will be more slow-paced than a regular ecotrip, since we’ll be stopping frequently to take photos.
RPN: What kinds of knowledge or insights should trip participants expect to take away from their phototrip experience?
Rafa: All Photofox Adventure trips are educational in nature, not only in regard to photography but to the setting’s indigenous wildlife and people. On the Himalayan phototrip, you will learn about Nepali livelihoods and culture, as well the red panda, its habitat and the conservation effort on its behalf. In addition, you will develop your travel photography skills, as we demonstrate and practice techniques for capturing wildlife and shooting landscapes. Overall, the trip should be a fun, educational and rewarding experience for all participants.