We have so far run all expeditions in 2022 without serious incidences or interruptions due to Covid. In addition, Covid-related restrictions are now being lifted almost everywhere. As a result, we are changing our Covid procedures to as follows:
We recommend that all expeditioners are vaccinated, including a booster vaccination, but will not ask for proof of vaccination.
We recommend that you bring some face masks with you to protect yourself, should someone on the expedition fall ill with Covid (or indeed on your flight to the expedition country). We recommend you bring surgical masks or even better FFP2 masks.
We will bring some rapid Covid self-tests to the expedition in case someone develops symptoms. You can then self-test on a voluntary basis. If you test positive, we will work with you in a reasonable and non-panicky way to ensure that you and the team are safe. If you develop serious symptoms, we will help you get medical help.
Also, everyone still on the deferral list can now choose an expedition until the end of 2025, giving them ample of time to select an expedition that they want to come on. All they need to do is tell us which expedition and group they want to defer to – we will do the rest.
Today saw our Thailand elephant volunteers leave the village (and our jungle base) to get driven back to Chiang Mai, where they will prepare to re-enter society, hopefully with some new and interesting experiences and conversations to bring to the table.
Having had three years pass since the last Thailand expedition in 2019, and with so much planning and preparation beforehand, myself, Kerri and the team at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary couldn’t be happier with the results of all the hard work put in by our team of elephant citizen scientists. A team who could just have easily spent their annual leave in a refined hotel with Gin & Tonic in hand by the piano lounge, most likely not having consider how many times they should tap their boots upside down to check for scorpions before going for a stroll. Thank you for coming here instead.
Yesterday saw our final survey in the field, completing collectively 130 hrs of data collection, approximately 800 km walked and 24000 meters climbed up through steep jungle hillsides, gathering data for our scientists to evaluate for ongoing research in several aspects of the semi-wild elephants’ lives. Work that isn’t normally possible as it is so labour-intensive, and requires a concerted team effort – which is exactly what this expedition brings.
We’ve nearly finished packing up now, and soon I’ll be heading back myself. Thank you again everyone – this could not happen without you.
All good things come to an end. Much like the peanut butter for the toast at breakfast, we also saw the last of our early starts yesterday. It is such a tranquil way to start the day, with our head torches on, the morning dew dripping off the trees onto our heads as we make our way through the jungle. We arrived to see the opposite behaviour compared to the previous afternoon. Boon Rott and Gen Thong were in solitary patches of forest feeding and exploring. Gen Thong did eventually head to the river after a couple of hours for a solitary drink and a bathe in silence, apart from some frogs croaking and bird song in the distance. We have our last survey today wrapping up two complete days surveying combining all the hours collected this past week. Then our elephant citizen science team head back to Chiang Mai. But I have it on high authority that there is a pot of strawberry jam and Nutella in the fridge, so at least there will be something for the toast to spur us on our final quest.
Yesterday we finished our elephant conservation expedition finished its second day in a row of our late data collection times, starting at noon, then lunch followed by two more hours taking us up to 16:00. By the time we walked back to the village it was almost dark and dinner was on the table.
For the last two days the elephants have been very social with each other, the males and the females socially bathing (I don’t blame them, yesterday was especially warm) and Gen Tong, who normally annoys the others, has spent lots of time with Boon Rott, a larger older male with large tusks. They’ve been foraging together interspersed with trunk touching and leading us into dense thorny bushes that don’t seem to bother them at all.
We’ve also had the pleasure of preparing food and cooking with our home stays. And also seeing traditional Karen textiles the women of the village make and sell. I had wondered why the Mahouts had such stylish shoulder bags…
Our team of elephant citizen scientists arrived into the village yesterday. With a slightly theory-intensive day of classroom learning, they all went to bed nice and early ready for today, our practice day in the field.
This morning with lunches made and clipboards packed, we set off on a 1.5 h trek to find the elephant herd. The sun was shining and the ground was dry as we made our way up steep slopes, only to find out we had to go back down and in another direction.
Eventually we found our quarry, a few minutes ahead of schedule, which gave us time to just enjoy their presence before we started practising our newly-acquired data collecting techniques. We spent half an hour or so on each different technique, which follows the elephants behavioural categories, their proximity to the rest of the herd and also documenting which species of plant they eat throughout the day.
Once we had returned to base, we entered the data gathered onto the computer spreadsheets, which will be the legacy we leave behind for our scientists.
It also just so happened that tonight is Loy Krathong (the festival of light on the full moon), where you make offerings from plants and flowers that float. The villagers came to our base to prepare them with us. We then light the floats and sent them down the river. The tradition is to send all your worries and bad feelings with them. So we did and I feel this can only be a good omen for the rest of our Thailand expedition.
Yesterday Kerri, Sombat and I made our way from Chiang Mai to Ban Naklang village, stopping in at the market place to pick up plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and other last-minute shopping supplies ahead of our expedition start date on Monday.
Today we have been getting the base expedition ready, printing out datasheets and preparing clipboards, putting up banners and arranging the kit room, packed with all the tools you’ll need for our citizen science elephant surveys out in the field.
Tomorrow I will be hiking out with Aislinn (KSES research coordinator) to meet the herd again. I wonder if they’ll remember me? Apparently they never forget…
Hopefully you will all be either in Chiang Mai by now or be arriving shortly. Please make sure you have all relevant documentation with you on Monday. And remember we will be issuing Covid tests to you all, which you will have to take when you meet Jasmine, please do not eat or drink anything other than water for half an hour prior to the test as this can affect the result (for axample, orange juice has been known to make a positive result). Please also try to make sure that your money is in notes no larger than 100 Bhat as it is hard to change in the village.
Finally, if you can it would be useful to have these two apps on your phone (they are free please download them if you’re able to). iPhone: My GPS Navigation tracker. Android: GPS Location and Elevation.
Please be punctual on Monday at the pickup point: 08:00 in the lobby of Mercure Chiang Mai, where Jasmin will meet you to take you to the village.
I’ve made it to Chiang Mai with that slightly uneasy feeling in my stomach that seems to go hand-in-hand with spending 24 hours in transit, with the long leg of the journey being an overnight flight between Zürich and Bangkok sat between a Metallica rocker and a young couple with a baby on its first time on an aeroplane. But luckily you get that second burst of adrenaline to get you through the rest of the day. When you read this I will be on my way to Ban Na Klang, our hilltribe village base. The forecast for the area is for thunderstorms and I’ll report back with a final on-site update soon, before our Thailand elephant conservation expedition starts in Chiang Mai on Monday.
Hello everyone, my name is Anthony and I will be leading this year’s Thailand elephant expedition. It’s the second time I will have been in the remote Karen hill tribe village, working together with Kerri from our local partner organisation KSES. (Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary).
I type this waiting at Barcelona airport for my flight, having laid all my kit on the dining table last night making sure my bag was expedition-ready. I’m looking forward to meeting up with KSES and the team soon, so we can get everything prepared, and can’t wait for all of you to join us as citizen scientists in Thailand on this excellent project. I will update you with my telephone number, the weather and latest news once I arrive in Thailand.
We have so far run four expeditions (Azores, Sweden, Maldives, Malawi) successfully without Covid incidences and two more expeditions (Germany, Tien Shan) with incidences, but where our procedures worked and allowed us to continue and finish the expedition as planned. Procedures as mentioned in the September update remain in place and more information and answers to frequently asked questions are here.
Everyone still on the deferral list can now choose an expedition until the end of 2025, giving them ample of time to select an expedition that they want to come on. All they need to do is tell us which expedition and group they want to defer to – we will do the rest.
The Malawi 2022 biodiversity expedition has finished, with 12 satisfied and cheerful expeditioners loaded onto a coach to take them back to Lilongwe. This has been an expedition that kept on giving. The last couple of days gave us more elephant herds to record, more hippo counts, more elephant dung to sift through, more ants to study under a microscope, more camera trap images to view and more wildlife encounters.
The day after our discovery of the super herd of elephants reported in the last blog, we came across a super herd of Cape buffalo – maybe 100 animals quietly milling about in the dark.
Our last elephant survey gave us a beautiful hour with a family herd drinking and splashing in the lake before wandering off, leaving a large bull elephant browsing on a marula tree, blocking our way and in no hurry to move on. We waited patiently until he did wander into the trees with sufficient distance and lack of interest in us to allow us to slowly drive past, with a wide berth. So we thought. A large bull elephant can turn and charge with impressive speed, we discovered. We made a hasty 100 metre retreat in reverse gear to give the elephant the personal space he clearly needed and continued to watch him until we could circumnavigate him, successfully this time, and continue on our way to look for more animals.
A celebratory sundowner by the lake that evening was a fitting end to a successful and very enjoyable expedition. Back at base camp, Brenda and Phonice, our marvellous cooks, served up a wonderful last meal for us. Benni, our expedition scientist from LWT, summarised our expedition field research achievements and thanked us for the hard work we had put in and the impressive amount of research data this had produced.
Our initial headline results are:
42 herds or individual elephants counted, with a total of 458 individual elephants
6 hippo transects completed, with an average total hippo count of 116 hippos
976 seeds sifted (and photographed) from 38 samples of elephant dung
Over 40,000 individual camera trap images uploaded and catalogued
117 samples of invertebrates collected and preserved, giving 2161 identification pictures of ants that are relevant for pangolin food
A big thank you also from me, your expedition leader, to all involved – from LWT to Park staff and rangers, to cooks and helpers, to citizen scientists. There are too many to name individually, but you know who you are. This expedition would not be possible without you and I thank you for making it a success.