It’s taken a while to get this online, sorry, but here is the diary, a slideshow and some videos of our January 2012 desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates.
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.
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