The last few days have been very busy. On Tuesday morning we checked the box traps on our vehicle game count and in box trap number 3 (where we caught our big male leopard) we found a small juvenile hyaena. We first thought that this might be the female we had caught at Bergposten three weeks ago, but when she turned out to be a he, we decided to get some blood samples and measurements on Saturday. He was sedated, weighed, measured and then placed back into the box trap and finally released when he was fully awake just before dinner.
We didn’t expect to find so many different hyaenas in this study area and this is very interesting additional data about the other predators on the farm, thanks to all of you being our constant eyes, ears and data collectors in the field. Yesterday was group four’s last day. We spent it cleaning up, entering data and having a few farewell drinks in the evening. Thanks to all of you for your help and your kind words. Safe travels back home. Roll in group five.
Good news from Muscat, where I have had some high-level meetings with goverment decision-makers about creating a Musandam Marine Protected Area. It’s early days and I can tell you more about it when we meet, but it was an important step forward. The next step is you collecting more data!
Other than that we are pretty much ready for you. T-shirts and Reef Check materials printed, MS Sindbad is being made ready, supplies are being bought and I have done most of my packing.
I’ll be on the A380 from London next Friday. My UAE number (on Sat/Sun 6/7 October) will be xxx and my Oman number (from 7 October p.m. onwards) will be xxx. Remember these are for emergency purposes (such as missing assembly) only.
On Friday morning we had an early start to count prey animals just after sunset. Soon group 1 (Jesaja, Linda, Allyson and I) came across a very fresh leopard track close to where we caught our male two weeks ago. Then, just after we had finished our vehicle game count, Allyson and Linda spotted a freshly killed impala next to the road. We decided to set up a camera trap on the spot straight away. On our way back to camp after setting the trap, we found more fresh tracks: cheetah this time.
The new camera trap yielded great pictures straight away (see below) with two different leopards feeding on the carcass at different times. A female leopard was there first and a few hours later our recently collared leopard male “Omusamani” took over. It seems the kill is the perfect new spot for live trapping. As I write this one trap is already set up. The second one is being set up as I type by our research team, who decided to give up their free day. Thank you.
Hello everyone and welcome to the first diary entry for Biosphere Expeditions’ first ever Emirates desert
expedition. My name is Malika Fettak and I will be your expedition leader. You will also meet Dr. Matthias Hammer, our founder & executive director, Greg Simkins and Steve Bell, from the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, as well as a host of other people, which I will introduce to you as things progress.
Matthias and I are about a week ahead of you, blazing the way for you trailblazers. I am writing this from the airport and there is also a video of us:
I’ll write once or twice from the Emirates to tell you how preparations are going. Once I have confirmed my mobile number, I will also e-mail that through. Remember that this is for emergency purposes only (such as being late for assembly, for example).
Best wishes for now from the airport
Guess what. It’s blueskies and very pleasant temperatures in the 20s here in Dubai. The oryxes, sand
gazelles and all sorts of other wildlife are out, including a large number of humans running back and forth between shopping trips in Dubai, putting up the base camp
organising supply lines and food, datasheets and all the millions of other things that need to be done beforean expedition team arrives. We have a camp, we have three shiny new Land Rovers for you, we have datasheets (almost) for you to fill in, we have a cook, we have cold showers and we have fancy flush toilets (with a water saving function).
Two days to go and we should be ready for you, Insha’Allah. “Insha’Allah”, by the way, is a phrase you are about to become very familiar with. I usually introduce new expeditioners to this phrase right from the start, so I’ll do it again in this diary entry: Insha’Allah translates roughly as… ‘If Allah wills it’ and is a marvelously useful term of complete fatalism and one which has no direct English equivalent. The nearest thing would probably be ‘…but on the other hand I might get hit by a number 73 bus tomorrow’ -uttered in tones of sodden dejection by a clinical depressive with a strong Solihull accent.
See you soon.
Done! Everything is ready and waiting for the arrival of our first research team to study oryx, Gordon’s wildcat and other species in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Who would have thought that just 50 km outside of the hustle and bustle of Dubai, there is tucked away this tranquil oasis of Arabian wildlife. What a great place to conduct a wildlife conservation expedition in. Thank you Greg & Steve of the DDCR for sharing some of your workload with us.
It’s been windy for the past couple of days, so everything is covered in a thin layer of sand. Temperatures are around 30 deg during the day and around 20 deg at night. The moonrise last night was spectacular as was the sunrise this morning
See you tomorrow.
Yesterday, after picking up the team in Dubai, we went straight out into the desert and into our training. How to read maps, use binoculars, spotting scopes, rangefinders, set up camera and live traps, drive a Land Rover through the dunes, tell juvenile from adult oryx, etc., etc. This crash course in how to be a field biologist eventually had everyone’s head spinning. But the stars were bright, the fire was flickering, the food good and it was all sinking in by the evening.
This morning we woke up to a cold 9 deg. There was a bustle around camp well before sunrise as teams were getting ready. We were soon on our way to set camera and live traps all day in three teams, but not before some more driving instructions. Once inthe dunes trying to locate our pre-assigned GPS points to set the traps, our baptism of sand was swift and unforgiving.
My team and others got stuck more than once. But such is the life of Dr. Livingstone in the desert, I presume…
Call it beginner’s luck: we caught a cat during our first trapping night. Evelyn, Peter, Steven and I found a 4.5 kg male hybrid sitting in trap 17. Three drug doses were still not enough to put the ‘beast’ to sleep, but drunken as he was we managed to hold him down to do the measurements. We marked him and also took a DNA sample to illucidate the proportions of Gordon’s wildcat and feral cat in him.
Most of day two was taken up with checking and closing traps, so we postponed the reopening to the next day. Oryx herd survey was the task for all teams in the afternoon. Equipped with binoculars and spotting scopes, we headed out to different areas of the Reserve. On the way our species encounter datasheets were seeing some action too as all teams came across lots of animals, mainly Arabian gazelle and sand gazelle, but also sand fox and golden eagle.
Shovels also saw a lot of action during the last coupleof days although digging Land Rovers out of the sand didn’t really appear on our activities list! Everyone has shown great team spirit during our first trailblazing days, though. Another positive side effect of the project: we’ve all become experts in dunedriving! ;).
16 empty traps this morning, but all traps will be rebaited and set live again on Friday afternoon-wish us
luck! The bait of choice is sardines in tomato sauce with chilli -reportedly the intensive smell attracts cats and rodents evenly…
As I write this, teams are out on oryx surveys while I catch up on admin and take the chance to let you know how expedition life is in the Emirates.
Today was the day to check the camera traps we set a week ago; 18 cameras evenly spread over 227 sqm of the Reserve. Pictures we found were of the ‘easy to see’ Arabian gazelle, sand gazelle and oryx, but also of more elusive animals such as Arabian hare, redfox and … a cat!. You can tell with a glance that it’s not a pure Gordon’s wildcat as she doesn’t have black feet.
Later in the afternoon the time had come to review the first-ever Emirates desert project. We sat around the fireplace as Steven summarised our species sightings and records. Not only mammals, but also some of the local birders community most wanted such as leopard-faced vulture, golden eagle and desert eagle owl were seen. Steve thanked us for our contribution and DDCR staff reckoned thatwe have done well over a month’s work for them.
With everyone helping, we broke camp and did the last sand dune driving video shot in amazing morning
light before we left the desert. At our original meeting point in Silicon Oasis, Steven and I said goodbye to Anne, Evelyn, Ingrid, Tess, Peter and Yan.
You’ve been an amazing team. Thank you again for being fantastic trailblazers, great researchers and
mates! I hope you’ve enjoyed the week as much as I have and take back home a unique experience, desert wildlife knowledge, navigation & sand dune driving skills and good memories. A big thank you also goes to Greg, Steven and Pete of the DDCR for their support and rescue service at all times ;).
Hope to see some of you again some time!
P.S. The day after you all left, Pete trapped a not yet registered pretty much pure Gordon’s wildcat with one of the traps we set up. She’s now measured and microchipped.
With a couple of weeks to go until our Musandam expedition, I thought I would introduce myself and make you familiar with some changes (remember nothing is as constant as the change of plan on expedition ;).
My name is Matthias and I am the founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions and also your expedition leader. There’s a short video of me and why I am your leader (and not Rossella Meloni as per the dossier) below.
Change 1: I am your expedition leader.
Change 2: I will be on UAE mobile number xxx and not the expedition leader mobile advertised in the dossier. Since we have a good crew and have done this expedition for several years now, I will only arrive in Dubai 30 hours before we meet at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah. If you are late for assembly or if there is any other urgent matter, please ring me on this phone. Once we get to Oman and onto our liveaboard, I will switch to Oman mobile number xxx for the rest of the expedition.
No change: to the assembly point or time or to the fact that you are joining a research expedition, not a cushy dive holiday 😉 I hope you have all done your swatting up on Reef Check and are ready to help us with our reef research. Here’s an old 2011 survey itinerary. As you can see it’s early mornings and mostly survey dives, but we usually get in a few “lazy dives”, i.e. dives when you don’t have to fill in any datasheets. So please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with (and test you on) before you are allowed to collect data.
But enough of the scaremongering! I hope your preparations and packing is taking shape. Remember there is NO dive hire gear in Musandam, so please bring all your own stuff or arrange hire gear in Dubai in advance (see page 19 of your dossier).
I may write once more from Dubai before we all meet at 09:00 at the Holiday Inn Express Jumeirah on 7 October. Safe travels and I look forward to meeting you soon.
Dr. Matthias Hammer
Our all women power team (group 4) has arrived safely on Okambara to join the fray. We’ve been through the training and biefings and Susan now knows that the reason for the big ears of African elephants are not that they can hear better 😉 Kristina was brave and took Sylvia, Allyson and Ginny for driver training even though Sylvia had not driven a manual car for 25 years. All are now well prepared for the upcoming data collection and we made sure they will remember all the GPS, compass and telemetry skills out in the field. The second day ended with Joerg’s presentations and a lovely rainbow over our camp when it started to rain. Weather patterns really are changing!
On Monday Andrew, Julia, Terrence and Josh had a tough day working in the heat and built a great new hide at Bergposten so we are now able to observe the animals under the comfort of a sun shade / roof.
Over the last few days we have found the box traps empty, but with their doors down and inside one of them John noticed a big mess. Something must have been in there. When we checked the camera trap pictures yesterday we found we had captured another predator: a honey badger went into the trap at night, but somehow made its way out (probably between the bars) before we could get there in the morning.
When looking through the other camera trap pictures we had another big surprise: our first cheetah picture!
Finally, we decided to call our latest leopard capture “Omusamani” (meaning “old man” in Herero). His collar is working and the data are coming in.
Yesterday we punched the rest of the data for this group into the computer before heading out to watch the African sunset. When you get this this group should all be packed up and ready to go. Thank you everyone. Roll in group 4!
On Friday we had a very early start with everyone still a bit drowsy from the leopard celebrations the night before, but we bravely handled the cold at 06:30 and counted more than 13 different animal species during the vehicle game count. On Saturday morning, we found another (most likeley a leopard) kill (a zebra foal), so we decided to set up a box trap nearby. Kristina and I checked the trap on the day off and found fresh hyaena tracks close by.
The nights are not too cold any longer, so on Saturday night we decided to be brave again and have a couple of beers at the campfire. The Southern hemisphere sky at night was amazing.
As I write this, Brian, Derek and Ann are checking the box traps. Let’s see what they come back with.
We checked another reef yesterday, but then the whale sharks obstinately refused to be checked! There was one at noon, just as the bell rang for lunch, but it did not feel like being studied and dived away before we could get into the water. But I think everyone enjoyed the lazy day steaming up and down the surf break, the sunshine, as well as a great farewell sunset and dinner.
As I write this on the Carpe Diem, our time draws to a close here. I would like to thank the crew of the Carpe Diem for looking after us so well, Jean-Luc for being an excellent alpha male scientist, our partners in the Marine Research Centre, Soneva, LaMer, the Live & Learn Foundation, Reef Check and many others for supporting us in our coral reef conservation endeavours, and last but not least the whole expedition team for being such competent and relaxed divers and Reef Checkers. It was a pleasure to have worked with you and I hope I will see you again some day, somewhere on another expedition.