Photographers' Blog

A sheep with an artificial heart – or maybe not

Tianjin municipality, China

By Petar Kujundzic

I took a trip to the port city of Tianjin after China Central Television (CCTV) reported on a sheep with an artificial heart developed at TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital. According to CCTV, the hospital recently unveiled a new artificial heart, which was implanted in a sheep two months ago. The sheep lived healthily for more than 62 days, a new record among similar experiments in the country.

This sounded like a very good reason to leave Beijing for a day and report about such an extraordinary achievement. Upon arrival we met the hospital’s administration director who told us that this was not really an artificial heart but a ventricular assistant device (VAD), which is basically a mechanical pump that’s used to support the heart’s function and blood flow in people who have weakened hearts. He didn’t know why CCTV had reported differently.

After being disappointed for a couple of minutes we decided not to go back empty-handed, so they took us to a low-rise building next to the hospital where the star of the experiment was located, a ram nicknamed Tianjiu (Everlasting). The three-year-old ram carried a VAD, which was designed by the hospital to enhance cardiac pumping by using magnetic suspension technologies from state-of-the-art aerospace science.

It smelled like a zoo, and we had to put on scrubs (they weren’t my size but I had to follow the rules). Inside a room two rams stood in their enclosures. Tianjiu was connected to a laptop-looking gadget that monitored his heart rate. The other ram was just there to keep him company. Apparently, Tianjiu was sad about being alone so they brought him a companion.

Tianjiu was calm, reasonable and well aware of the environment, looking into the camera while his mate wanted to eat parts of my clothes and have a quick horn fight. In the meantime more journalists arrived so it became a bit overcrowded and difficult to work. Luckily, Liu Xiaocheng, the leader of the project and president of the Tianjin TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital, decided to take Tianjiu out for a walk. In order to leave the room Tianjiu wore a multi-pocketed vest filled with cables and gadgets to help his VAD pump the blood through his body.

Man versus wild

Kathmandu, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

I was on my way to cover another assignment when I got news of a leopard that had wandered into a town. Without wasting any time, I turned my motorbike around and rushed toward the scene. When I reached the area, I saw a huge crowd of people, most of them with big sticks, pieces of bamboo or farming tools, but I couldn’t see a leopard anywhere.

I asked one of the men standing near me and he pointed to the bush and said that was where the leopard was hiding. At that point, a policeman with a gun entered the bush and climbed up a small tree. I heard a big bang as he let off six rounds of gunfire – the sound was really loud. Was the leopard dead? Was it going to come out?

The gun had been fired to scare the animal and make it emerge from its hiding place, but the plan didn’t work. Up until that point, there had been no trace of the beast, only people making fun of it, shouting, looking toward the bush and cracking jokes. The policeman walked out of the undergrowth with his gun.

When monkeys tie the knot

It all started with a phone call. I was being invited to a wedding. Sounded good. I’d finally make my debut in wedding photography.

I had it all planned. I wanted to spend a day each at the groom’s and the bride’s respectively. Now the only hiccup was I couldn’t interact with them. After all, they were no regular couple. They were monkeys.

Monkeys have an important place in Hindu mythology. They are worshiped as Lord Hanuman, the mighty ape that fought the devious Ravana alongside Lord Rama to create the epic Ramayana.

Losing my appetite at the pork festival

Since my return to Romania in January 2009, I longed to cover the pig festival.

A decoration made from salami and yellow cheese is seen on a table belonging to participants from Balvanyos village of Somogy county in Hungary, during the annual pork festival in Balvanyos, about 250 km (156 miles) north of Bucharest, Romania February 5, 2011. Pork features prominently in traditional East European cuisine and the slaughter of pigs is a thriving cottage industry in the countryside during winter. Teams from Germany, Hungary and Romania took part in the festival. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

My colleague Bogdan Cristel had covered it in past years. But I could not as I was assigned to edit and process the World Ski Championship, which takes place during the same period. Last year, I again edited skiing and thought that this year would be the same: me editing and Bogdan covering it. In January however, I was surprised when the organizers changed the date, providing me with the possibility to go and cover this story.

I remember as a child I once saw a pig being slaughtered, but my memory is blurred. As a city boy, living with my mother on the third floor and my grandparents on the first floor of an apartment block, I never experienced what was normal for village folk. For villagers, pigs, cows, chicken, ducks and geese were slaughtered in the backyard to provide food for the entire family. For me, all livestock came from butchers or supermarkets, frozen or fresh, nicely labeled and packaged.

A couple kisses behind pork meat hanging on display during the annual pork festival in Balvanyos, about 250 km (156 miles) north of Bucharest, February 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

What was of interest to me was how they slaughter the pigs. I wondered if they were using electricity according to European Union regulations or following a traditional method and using a knife? I discovered that traditional method is allowed during the festival, so people can see how it was done in the past.

A penguin’s trip home

I went to the police rescue unit to take pictures of a Humboldt penguin, which is on the endangered list, that had been rescued a few days earlier from a beach full of bathers, very far from its natural habitat. The police chief told me, “We’re going to free it. Come with us.” Lima, Peru, is a city on the edge of the Pacific, with buildings and beaches full of summer tourists, traffic, noise and heat…and amidst all that, Tomas appeared.

Tomas was quiet and relaxed while awaiting his transfer to an island where there are entire colonies of his kind. The police rescuers took turns taking pictures with him and chatting about what penguins are all about. They named him Tomas after their cook at headquarters, because they both walked with the same gait.

Tomas, a lost Humboldt penguin, walks next to a mural at the headquarters of the police Salvage Unit in Chorrillos, before he is transferred to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo Island January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Tomas provoked a child’s reaction in everyone, making them (and me) stop work to just watch a cute bird, take care of him, talk about him, and wonder how he had ended up on the beach. Tomas was restless and waddled all around the police station, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures.