Valeriy spent 10 days in spring camped in Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve, in the Primorskiy Krai region of the Russian Far East. It's a UNESCO biosphere reserve, famous for being home to Amur tigers and leopards. Valeriy's aim was to encounter an Amur leopard, confident that, in his hide on a raised platform, he was safe and the leopard wouldn't feel threatened by him. More of a concern was the Siberian temperature - an average -20°C in early spring - together with the fact that the leopards were only ever active from dusk. This made it difficult to know when one was actually close to his hide, which doubled as his sleeping tent. Valeriy's plan was to keep focused on an area around a deer carcass he'd dragged up and positioned near a path known to be used by at least one leopard. For a single leopard to appear would have been reward enough, but to see a mother with three cubs (one cub is the norm), before nightfall, was extraordinary. 'I tried to make the most of the fast-fading light,' says Valeriy, 'and I simply couldn't believe my luck when I managed to photograph both the mother and two of her cubs.' The sobering thought, though, is that the family probably represents 10 per cent of the wild population of this officially critically endangered subspecies, which continues to be threatened by habitat loss, fires, poaching and inbreeding.
Nikon D2Xs + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/60 sec at f3.8; ISO 500; Manfrotto tripod.
Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve, Primorsky Krai, Russia