Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

4 July

After a late night arrival at 23:00 the previous evening and an exhausted team heading straight for some shut-eye, I could finally see what my team looked like as they were slowly emerging from their tents. We introduced each other over Nina’s hot porridge and despite the rain, started with the training. After lunch we split into two groups and while Jenny ran her science session with one, I did the Land Rover training with the other. Carol, Andy and Janine turned out to be excellent drivers and needed very little guidance. Rock crawl over some medium size boulders turned out to be the most popular activity, but what impressed me most was Louise reversing back into our car park, using only side mirrors!

5 July

Clouds still hanging over the camp, but luckily on the way out. We all headed up to Manul rock, to see if we could find any signs of elusive Pallas cat actually living there. We found nothing, but on the way to the saddle, we discovered plenty of very fresh argali and ibex droppings.

After lunch, we grabbed the compasses and not only found our way around the camp, but also learnt that North is the same in both the Northern and the Southern hemisphere. Quite a shock to some 😉

I took Jenny to see my new find, the nest of an imperial eagle, only a short distance from the camp. The chick, already loosing its white fluff and growing proper feathers, treated us with suspicion as we sat nearby.

Imperial eagle chick
Imperial eagle chick

6 July

We were determined not to get beaten by the weather today and left the camp quite early, heading up Kunduyak valley. Susan, Louis and I went ahead to reunite with the group later. With clouds hanging ominously above us for most of the day, we marched all the way to the glacier and then split up. Jenny and I started the long slog to our first camera trap, taking with us Janine, Andy, Carol and Dermott.

Climbing up to the camera trap
Climbing up to the camera trap

Andy, an engineer, had a look at mysterious device we had found previously and to our disappointment confirmed it was just remnants of a meteorological balloon. Unfortunately we found our camera face down, right next to fresh ibex droppings. Grrrr!!!! A nearby rock fall was to blame for destroying our hopes, but luckily not the camera. Not all was lost though, as the camera did operate for three whole days and captured some great night images of…mountain hare. Small victory. We secured the camera even better and left it there, hoping.

Mountain hare
Mountain hare

Walking back to base camp turned out to be bit of an endurance event. Good weather turned its back on us and we were soon caught in torrential rain, sleet and hail. Back at camp the sun reappeared to help us dry all our wet clothes. Welcome to the high mountains! The Land Rovers looked a bit like Xmas trees, decorated with all that dripping gear.

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia.

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