How Panda Urine Helped A National Geographic Photographer Score Magical Images Of China’s Elusive Bear

08.09.16 3 years ago

Wait… so photographer Ami Vitale did what exactly to get those photos of pandas in National Geographic?

Well, for starters, she wore a panda suit scented with urine and feces. The suit, on sight, is admittedly one-part hilarious to one part-terrifying. It’s not something I’d want to encounter at a child’s birthday party, or emerging from a lonely, misty stand of bamboo, and it’s hard to imagine that marinating it in a bear’s bodily excretions would improve it in any way. But that’s a human perspective, and when I spoke to Ami over the phone this month about her incredible photos in the August issue of National Geographic, I learned that when it comes to taking a great picture of one of the world’s most iconic endangered species, it’s all about getting into the panda’s mindset.

Vitale’s three-year odyssey to photograph pandas took her to China, where she chronicled the work of the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda. This center, led by director Zhang Hemin (a.k.a. “Papa Panda”), is making significant waves in the conservation world. Their success in breeding, raising, and rewilding pandas is bringing hope to a species (and a world) often bludgeoned by difficult conservation news. And the panda suits covered in pee are a big part of it.

I was thrilled to get a chance to ask how.

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