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French photographer captures rare snow leopard images

A French photographer has captured unprecedented close-up images of snow leopards, after eight months of expeditions in Tibet, at altitudes of up to 5,000 metres.

Photographer Frédéric Larrey, from Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) - along with the rest of his team, including his brother Olivier - took eight trips of a month each, across three years.

To get the shots of the super-rare species, they had to trek in the mountains of Tibet at altitudes of 4,000 to 5,000 metres, to set up cameras in perilous mountain positions.

Photographing the animal requires long hours - and sometimes days - hiding in mountain-top shelters, keeping a constant lookout for any small movement that could hint at the presence of a snow leopard.

Due to the colour of their coat, the animals blend in exceptionally well to their surroundings, making them extremely difficult to see.

Mr Larrey has now shared some of the incredible shots online, via  his Instagram account.

The team's travels over several months allowed them to capture photos of the animals in different seasons, and also meant they could take part in species census work.

View this post on Instagram

Panthères des neiges, mars 2018. Départ aujourd’hui sur le plateau tibétain pour les deux frères Olivier et Frédéric Larrey ! Ce sera un reportage photo et un tournage d’un mois avec Stéphane Jacques et Samuel Toutain pour Arte. En espérant que la panthère des neiges sera au rendez-vous. Merci à nos amis et partenaires Argeles Photo Nature, Festival Photo Montier, Leica Camera France Festival de la Camargue et du Delta du Rhône et Zed Productions. Snow leopard, March 2018. Departure today on the Tibetan plateau for the two brothers Olivier and Frédéric Larrey! It will be a photo report and a one-month shoot with Stéphane Jacques and Samuel Toutain for Arte. Hoping that the snow leopard will be at the rendezvous. Thank you to our friends and partners Argeles Photo Nature, Photo Festival Montier, Leica Camera France Festival Camargue and the Rhone Delta and Zed Productions. #snowleopards #himalaya #wildlifephotography #endangeredspecies #naturephotography #naturelovers #bigcat #photooftheday #leica #tibet

A post shared by Frédéric Larrey (@fredericlarrey) on

Mr Larrey has also contributed the shots to a book and documentary.

The work is also set to help preserve the species, while part of the proceeds from book sales will go to help support villagers near the Tibetan mountains in which the animals were seen - especially villagers who have suffered losses due to snow leopard attacks.

As a result of human activity, conflict, and troubles with the local community, the snow leopard population has shrunk by 20% over the past 20 years, wildlife group the WWF has said.

The species is found in 12 countries, but is endangered in each. There are now fewer than 500 snow leopards left in the wild.

Mr Larrey attributes much of his success to the support of his parents, who encouraged him and his brother Olivier in their dream of taking photos, and seeing a snow leopard one day.

Mr Larrey said: “My father was an amateur photographer, and took beautiful photos during our holidays. What really left an impression on me were the ones he took during a trip to Nepal, as a mountaineer and doctor. My father lent us his camera one day, and that made me want to take pictures with my brother.”

He added: “My parents didn’t hesitate to support me in this project, even though my naturalist friends said it would be a difficult life.”

Mr Larrey has won several photography competitions, including BBC Wildlife Photographer of The Year. His photos are exhibited regularly, and he also creates travel reports and TV documentaries with channels such as Nat Geo Wild, France 5, Doclights, The Smithsonian Channel, and Arté - along with his own production company, Regard du Vivant.

He is now ambassador of camera manufacturer, Leica France, and also works with coastal protection agency Conservatoire du Littoral.

Frédéric has said that his wife and children are now his biggest supporters. The family still lives in Marseille.

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