It was more rain until Saturday (23 June), when there was not a single cloud in the sky. Jenny decided to head upriver, towards Kunduyak glacier, hoping to place some of our camera traps. It was hard going from the start across loose scree. Initial scans revealed only more marmots and a very exciting flyover by a lammergeier. We then had lunch at the conjunction of two rivers, surrounded by some beautiful golden flowers when we spotted three magnificent ibex, all males, sporting a very long set of curvy horns. The rest of the herd appeared soon after and we counted 17 of them. We set our camera trap and headed back. At base dinner and beer chilled by the glacier never tasted better.
The next day (24 June) we went for a scouting drive of Sailugyem and Chikacheva range. We parked the Land Rovers on one of the ridges and took a walk to nearby lakes, still filled with blue ice. We found ibex footprints all around and spotted some very agitated shell ducks and young imperial eagles. But the best was yet to come. On the way back to camp, we noticed some shapes running across the steppe and shortly afterwe realised that they were wolves! We followed in the cars at a respectful distance and were very pleased to see them disappear into the forest next to base camp. New neighbours! When the other neighbours (camels) came by for a visit later, eagle-eyed Debra spotted a lone wolf standing nearby, watching the camels intently. We were hoping for wolf howls in the night, but it was all quiet on the Altaian front.
On Monday (25 June) we split the group. Some of us went into the next valley to survey and set camera traps and others climbed under a beating sun to survey high ridges. We took it easy on Tuesday (26 June) as many of us were very tired and went to a nearby lake for some great birdwatching and spotting YAKs, our abbreviation for “yet another kite”.
For the rest of the week, the group then split into an overnight team and a stay-at-home team, with the overnighters returning to camp with tales of abundant prey, particularly ibex, but no snow leopard sign so far.
Jenny and Oleg started the long drive back while Nina and I stay back at base. On the way Jenny met up with Mikhail Paltsyn of WWF Russia to co-ordinate further our work. Over the next two months Mikhail wants us to cover quite a few areas, so we will have our work cut out! More from Jenny when you get here, eventually.
Thank you group 1 for all the hard work. Safe travels group 2 and see you at base on Tuesday!
Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia