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

We left Novosibirsk on Monday and for the first time managed to get through the permit palaver in Gorno Altaisk as per plan A, so no need for B, C and D, or so we thought until first one of the Land Rovers and then one of the team members started playing up. So some minor repairs and major altercations later, we finally arrived at base, still late as usual and minus one person. My thanks and gratitude to the remaining team who put up with a lot and pulled together like a real expedition team.

Then my tooth started playing up too, but luckily we have Friedy, a retired dentist, and Dani, a pharmacist with a bag full of pills to prove it, on the team. I was expertly taken care of (whilst Jenny did all the training sessions, thank you) and Gordon kept making chipmunk impressions behind my back 😉

News was then brought on Thursday by our local friend Kampi of snow leopards above his winter station not far away. Under Jenny’s guidance we jumped into the Land Rovers to have a look and make a plan K. The landscape has changed a lot because of the heavy rains, but the Land Rovers pulled through all the streams, which had turned into rivers.

Land Rover in action
Land Rover in action

Our new cook Olija is also delivering, conjuring up stews, borschts (sp?), and all sorts of tasty servings.

On Friday we split the team in two – one to survey the plan K snow leopard ridge, the second to retrieve a camera trap, yielding pictures of shaggy ibexes still shedding their winter coat. Jenny and her team hit the jackpot and found snow leopard scrapes on the ridge, then placed camera traps to hopefully catch their makers.

I wish the Altaian ground squirrels would all also meet their makers! Cute and ubiquitous as they are, they are also chewing through everything. Mark’s rucksack, Gordon’s towel, Jenny’s trousers, my favourite T-shirt; perhaps they’ll have indigestion soon and leave us alone! Unlikely.

Altai ground squirrel
Altai ground squirrel

Today we took it a little “easier” and retrieved another camera trap. Samara, Mark, Oleg, Jenny and I climbed to another ridge. The views were breathtaking, as were the camera trap pictures. It started slow with red-billed choughs, a family of Altai snowcocks and then…Pallas cat! This very rarest of cats is meant to be a steppe dweller, so to catch it on candid camera at 3000 m is as remarkable as getting a picture of it in the first place. Well done everyone! Just rewards for keeping your nerves through the horrible start.

P.S. I am sorry there are no pictures of the camera traps, but I am struggling to get them sent through from our remote location.

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

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