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Viral Photos of Snow Leopard Near Everest are Fake

A series images were believed to be real until Alpine International determined they were fake. The photographer has replied saying, "I always edit my images"

Two weeks ago, an American photographer released a series of images that showed a snow leopard near Everest in the Khumbu Range of the Solukhumbu District of Nepal. The photos quickly went viral.

Photographer Kitia Pawlowski wrote the following on social media: “I backpacked 103 miles on foot to photograph one of the world’s most elusive animals—the snow leopard. Here are a few of my favorite shots. On a bitterly cold morning, I followed the icy rim of a gaping chasm, scoping out the Khumbu Valley with my Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens. At 18,000 feet (5486 meters) the weather was unpredictable. Within minutes one was alternatively freezing or roasting in the sunshine. This altitude is the limit of where snow leopards roam; however, to get the best view of the valley, I had to climb. Squinting through my camera’s telephoto lens, I noticed something in the shadow of Mount Pumori. At first, I thought it was a rock, but it was exactly what I was looking for.”

However, Alpine International, a magazine run by experts of mountain life, nature and photography, have concluded that the photos are faked. The magazine noted: “They were too good to be true. The whole world has seen Kittiya Pawlowski’s photos of a snow leopard, snapped in the distance and surrounded by magnificent Himalayan mountains. The problem is that the lighting in the American photographer’s pictures is a little strange and the images show collage effects reminiscent of photomontages.

“Given these doubts, we decided to analyse the images in detail. We can now prove that at least three of the photos have been manipulated, having identified the bits of mountain used to create the backgrounds.” Read the article here, which goes into great detail about the faked images.

Image by Alpine International

Vincent Munier, a snow-leopard specialist, offers his opinion in the article, saying, “The implausibility of these photos struck me immediately. I’ve seen leopards going over passes, but they move very fast and are almost impossible to capture. A leopard posing sitting down is highly improbable. But there, with that background, it’s uncanny. In one of the photos, it’s the light that doesn’t fit, it looks like there are two suns. They are the sort of photos you can spend a lifetime trying to get. I think it’s really bad not to differentiate. Especially, as she accompanies it with a tall story. What’s more, I’ve seen leopards when they’ve been running, whereas the breath coming from the leopard’s mouth [on the vertical photo of the sitting panther printed by The Times of London] is totally unreal.”

These images bring to mind a scene in the popular Hollywood movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ where Ben Stiller (as office worker Walter Mitty) runs into Sean Penn (as photographer Sean O’Connell) in the Himalayas. After months of gruelling high altitude searching, Penn’s character finally finds the elusive snow leopard, only to not photograph it. When O’Connell tells Mitty to keep completely still, he calls the snow leopard the “ghost cat” and says, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

On Nov. 28, Pawlowski posted a reply to the faked viral photos, noting that she did use photoshop and that she’s not a journalist. She noted, “News and media from around the world stole my images and published them with their own meaning. They did not ask me if they were edited. They interpreted them in their own way and spread them around the world. They told their followers that they were not edited. This is untrue, I always edit my images.”