Hyderabad: His photographs of a snow leopard from Spiti, Himachal Pradesh broke the internet, literally. Yet the man is still calm, unassuming.
Ismail Shariff, Hyderabad-based nature and wildlife photographer, is known to wildlife and photography enthusiasts as the ‘Snow Leopard Man of India’. His long and passionate association with photography began in his student days. What started as documenting his own life in Europe while pursuing his Masters gradually gained direction and came to focus on wildlife photography.
Picking up his first camera in 2005, Ismail was treated to the magnificent sight of a huge male tiger in 2008 while on a trip to the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. That was the defining moment of his life. “It became one of the reasons for me to move back to India to pursue of wildlife photography and tourism here,” he said.
Ismail, an alumnus of the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet, has been part of nine snow leopard expeditions in the last seven years with the recent one being in 2020, apart from several other wildlife expeditions. The first thing that strikes his mind about snow leopards is the long fluffy tail, blue eyes, thick fur and a true-blue cat attitude. Snow leopards are one of the world’s most elusive animals and the most common way to spot one is high up on the mountain ridges. After an hour or more of patient stalking in Spiti in 2017, he finally spotted a snow leopard passing by. The shots he posted on various wildlife photo websites are trending even today.
“I was obsessed with snow leopards ever since a photograph taken in 2012 by Dhritiman Mukherjee, India’s leading wildlife photographer,” said Ismail, adding that seeing the mysterious ghost of the mountains for the first time in Hemis National Park, Ladakh, was an unforgettable experience in itself.
Ismail said the snow leopard is a notoriously elusive creature. It is also listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List since the global population is estimated to be between 4,000 to 6,000. India is believed to have less than 1,000. That adds stars to his journey from just another photographer to being called the Snow Leopard Man of India.
“There were struggles. My parents were expecting me to get a corporate job. But I chose photography as my career. It was tough initially, since you’ve to invest a lot of time and money with very uncertain returns to make a name. But at the end of the day, if you want to be successful, you have to be willing to work hard, even if it means making more than a few sacrifices along the way,” said Ismail, a Computer Science engineer from Central European
University, Budapest, Hungary. He moved to Paris to work there for two and half years before wildlife photography took over him.
Ismail, who has had solo photography exhibitions on Snow Leopards even in Los Angeles and New York, also indulges in fine art printing. He also works with the Snow Leopard Trust in helping raise funds for their conservation efforts.
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