By Rick Ridgeway • Photographs by Galen Rowell
Foreword by Conrad Anker
National Geographic (2004)
16-page full color insert
6" x 9"
B25H • $26.00
In June 2002, Rick Ridgeway, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and the late renowned wilderness photographer Galen Rowell set out to discover the migration route of the chiru (the tibetan antelope). A feat twice attempted by eminent wildlife biologist George Schaller—first in four-wheel-drive vehicles and later by camel caravan—the team resolved to use their outdoor skills, prototype aluminum rickshaws, and their own two feet to solve this wildlife riddle.
Following the chiru entails a dangerous journey across Tibet’s Chang Tang plateau, widely considered the world’s most inhospitable environment. Each year the herd travels across this high-altitude rangeland to its breeding ground. After traversing endless miles of remote plain, a treacherous canyon, an arid desert, all at an average elevation of 17,000-feet, the four men are rewarded for their efforts—they become the first explorers to witness the chiru giving birth.
The expedition is both unprecedented and urgent. The discovery of these birthing grounds provides the information needed to convince the Chinese to safeguard the chiru’s habitat within a nature reserve. Already vulnerable to predators, the chiru's most formidable threat is human vanity—they are hunted for their fur, which is woven into the world’s finest and most expensive wool, shatoosh. A fascinating journey culminating with an inspiring environmental victory, The Big Open recounts a unique and rewarding adventure.
“Galen called me several times by satellite phone from the Chang Tang. Once he called to tell me about a Tibetan wolf that had been hanging around camp, and on another occasion he related his amusement at a group of eider ducks perched at the top of a cliff like hawks waiting to swoop down on prey below. It was obvious from our conversations that he was on top of the world, having the time of his life with a group of good friends. Despite the arduous nature of the trek, Galen was clearly excited and inspired by the extreme physical challenge, the austere beauty of the Chang Tang landscape, and the successful discovery of the chiru birthing grounds. He returned from the trip 25 pounds lighter, but with a tremendous sense of fulfillment. By pushing the limits of the physically and logistically possible, Rick, Jimmy, Conrad, and Galen had made a critical contribution to the survival of the Tibetan antelope, and had a truly rewarding adventure in the bargain.”
—Justin Black, General Manager, Mountain Light Photography
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