Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

It was Vera’s birthday on Thursday, and Okambara baked us a really nice chocolate cake. We’re not sure what it said, but it sure tasted good. (A note to previous team members: YES, it really was Vera’s birthday – we didn’t even have to invent a birthday just to get sweets!) The team was really sweet and made a lovely hand-made card and also pooled all their various travellers bits and presented Vera with a bag full of wonderful little gifts; soaps, shower caps, suckers and sweets, pens, coloured pencils, etc.

Friday was our vehicle game count, and all three teams had a good morning practicing their ID skills counting zebras, kudu, springbok, impala, red hartebeest, eland, giraffe, warthogs, duiker, steenbok, and waterbuck from the back of the trucks.

And while that was exciting enough on its own, after dinner Friday, well, that’s when things got really interesting at the bush camp. Most of us were outside when the family group of three rhinos (the female with the broken horn and her two youngsters) came sauntering in, nervously watching us watching them. Our group fell silent. The rhinos finally decided it was safe enough to drink with us humans there in the lapa, and drank their fill. They then proceeded to spend some time licking the salt blocks Okambara puts out for the animals.

About fifteen minutes later, the elephants appeared! Rhinos and elephants at the waterhole – now that’s something we’ve just not seen yet this year. The elephants came rushing in as usual, eager to get right to the business of drinking. We thought it curious that the matriarch did not chase off the rhinos, and we just sat silently watching the encounter. Most of the elephants moved off in a hurry – in under their usual +/- ten minutes – but the young bull elephant stayed.

Now this guy is about eight years old, and since there are no mature bull elephants in the herd, let’s just say he doesn’t have a positive role model for appropriate behaviour. The young bull decided he was going to antagonise the rhinos, and started first with a staring contest. When that didn’t get the rhinos riled up, he sucked up some water and actually sprayed the young rhino in the face with it! Again that didn’t gain a reaction from the rhinos, so then the bull went around the other side of the water hole and stared at them again, then he threatened with a mock charge, and even rolled up his trnuk, flapped his ears and prepared for battle! He also kept kicking the dirt with his front legs in apparent frustration at not being able to engage the horned trio.

None too impressed, the rhinos stood their ground, the young one not fully engaging and backing off, and that’s what gave the young bull the idea that he was winning. Back and forth the two sides danced, and finally the rhinos abandoned the stalemate and one by one went back to the salt lick on the other side of the water, ignoring the young bull. Flummoxed, the young stud finally meandered off in the same direction his herd had marched off, and disappeared into the darkness. We humans let out a collective sigh of relief.

Continue reading “Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).”

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

I am now all packed to go with (from left to right)


Paperwork, of course. I hope you have yours ready. You will need to bring your checklist and PADI statement (and if you don’t know what I am talking about, then you had better read the dossier again, because you won’t be diving without a PADI statement or a valid diving licence, for example).

Buffs. If you don’t know what this is, then watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewVEK-AElDY. People find them very useful for diving, for example to keep hair out of your face. As you will see, I do not suffer from this problem 😉


Underwater magnifying glasses?! All will be revealed in due course.

Snazzy Swarovski Optik binoculars. For our sooty falcon work.


Of course there’s lots more gear, but this is all safely stored in Dubai. Remember that you need to have your diving gear serviced if you have not used it for a while. Otherwise I hope your packing is going well.

I’ll be in Muscat for a few days before getting to Dubai. The mobile number I will have in Dubai for about 36 hours before assembly is xxx. This is for emergency purposes only (such as being late for assembly).

See you there.

Continue reading “Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity & conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)”

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Team 4 has arrived at Okambara, and they were evidently briefed about my unusual tactics to get team members to be on time because they are always early!

Team 4 has been very keen to get to work, and so eager for the briefings that we finished them in record time. (I admit to using coffee and cake as an incentive to stay caffeinated and sugarated.) Even before their first day in the field all three activity groups jumped into organising their kit and the first morning was ready to leave base camp a full half hour before we were scheduled to start.

We were well rewarded for everyone’s efforts because this group’s very first box trap team captured a honey badger (in the trap at the lodge) and a porcupine (at Bergposten). The IZW (Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, one of our partners here in Namibia) wanted to immobilise the honey badger and take some DNA samples, and they invited the Biosphere Expeditions team to be involved in the process. (You’ll remember that the last group also captured a honey badger and while the IZW was keen to take samples then as well, unfortunately for our last group all the IZW scientists were in the field and we therefore released the animal without immobilisation.)

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While I am sure the honey badger doesn’t think he was any too lucky, we think he was because the IZW veterinarian identified a foreign object imbedded in his leg. After a small bit of field surgery she extracted a large, broken piece of porcupine quill from his hind leg. You can see the piece being extracted in the photograph above. We all got to watch the honey badger’s quick run for freedom about three minutes after the immobilisation antidote was administered. Afterwards the IZW team cleaned up the field station while two Biosphere teams went to work at re-setting the box trap. Thanks Team 4 for working your first day until dark!

Team 4’s first tracks & scats team found three hyaena tracks and one leopard track on track #4, and we had a good laugh at the evening briefing when they were disappointed to find so few tracks. We assured them that finding four tracks in a two and a half hour walk is an enormous success. We also found hyaena tracks in front of the Frankposten trap as we approached it for our box trap training, so the whole team received a lesson on measuring and identifying tracks our first day out.


The first day’s elephant team was only successful in learning how to use the telemetry equipment and also learning how easily a herd of nine elephants can disappear into the bush. The afternoon team looked and looked as well, and eventually found them through hearing their very loud crushing of and foraging on the brittle acacia shrubs.

Team 4’s other odd reward was a giant thunderstorm and believe it or not, RAIN! Unbelievable as it sounds, rain came in the middle of the night for several hours. This is most welcome because there has not been any rainfall here since May, and the bush is quite dry. We’ve been worried for the animals with Namibia’s drought, and hopefully the 10 mm of rain that fell last night will give the shrubs and grasses the boost they need to feed the game animals. For those of you that have been here and seen how dry it is, you’ll know how shocking – and welcome – the rain is.

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Gabi (an expeditioner staying for a second slot) and I were enjoying the day “off” in between groups by checking the box traps for Vera. In order to follow this story you need to know one thing about me: I hate travelling the same road twice. So Gabi and I set off on a new-to-us road in the north part of the farm. Thanks again to the volunteers in Team 1, I now know what a kill drag looks like. So when I drove over one on this route (yes, it took my brain three seconds to realise what it was!) I stopped and got out.

Gabi and I, not being experienced trackers, followed the drag about 300 meters to a hole in the fence. Excitement pounding through our veins at the possibility of finding a valuable leopard kill, we eventually realized we were following it in the wrong direction! So we backtracked, passed the truck again, and followed it the other way. 200 meters later we stopped our tracking because the trail led to the mountains. We then drove off to get some cell phone reception and back-up from Vera and Jesaja.

Jesaja was able to track the drag high up into the mountains, but the prey was small enough for the leopard to eventually pick it up and carry it over the rocks and we finally lost its trail. We were keenly disappointed to not find the fresh kill, because that is what led us to the leopard capture and subsequent collaring in Slot 2. I’m posting some pictures on https://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/ so that those still to come can see what we were so excited about.

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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Thursday we did our vehicle game count and it was the first time Vera, Jesaja and I weren’t freezing our whatooties off on the back of the vehicles. It was a welcome change from the near-zero temperatures we’ve had before! We had some really good spotters in this group and it was great to have them on board the vehicles.

After the vehicle game count, each vehicle split off to check the box trap nearest the terminus of their transect. Sadly, they were all empty. Vehicle 2 had a surprise encounter with the elephants on their way back to camp on the main east-west road, and they seemed a lot quieter than they were yesterday. The teams yesterday found them restless and a bit challenging to observe.

Unfortunately we did have one camera trap casualty this slot. The elephants and the baboons tag-teamed the poor trap and you can see how it came back to us. Look closely and you’ll see the teeth marks in the batteries! This is the second camera trap the elephants have destroyed this year.

After lunch all helped with the final data entry and equipment cleaning and organisation around base. Ania, our volunteer pharmacist, ruthlessly organised our emergency medical kits while Brigitte sorted through thousands of camera trap pictures. (Tomorrow look for the best of Slot 3 camera pictures.) Other afternoon activities included box trap duty and the vehicle cleaning detail.

Thanks Team 3 for your hard work over the past two weeks! Not only did you trail-blaze some new tracks for us (and collected our freshest “snack”, er, scat to date) you also gave us some clues as to where we might relocate another box trap.

Team 3

Continue reading “Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).”

Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity and conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)

Hello everyone and welcome to the first entry for our Musandam expedition diary. I am Matthias, your expedition leader, and founder & executive director of Biosphere Expeditions.

Not long now until the expedition. I will be a few days ahead of you, first in Dubai and then in Muscat, progressing our plans for a marine protected area with decision-makers and officials in Oman’s capital.

I hope your preparations are going well and you are SWOTTING UP ON REEF CHECK as you should – see your dossier as to why.

I look forward to meeting you all at the Dubai assembly point as per the dossier. Some of you will meet us in Khasab instead of Dubai and if you are PLEASE TELL ME NOW so that I can make a note. Otherwise we’ll be looking for you in Dubai, which will hold everyone up. If you are coming to Dubai as per the dossier, you do not need to tell me. I’ll just assume you’ll be there.

A map of proposed survey sites is below.

Now for the changes: Rita Bento has found love and is moving to Brazil. Congratulations for your wedding and all the best for the future. We have parachuted in Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, our old friend from the Maldives expedition and coral reef expert from the Marine Conservation Society, to pick up the baton as expedition scientist. He certainly knows his fish and invertebrates and will put you through your paces.

Apart from looking at corals, we’ll also help out with birds, sooty falcons to be precise, this year.

I’ll be in touch again from the ground in Muscat, if not earlier, and with my mobile phone number in case of emergencies.

Until then, enjoy your packing and safe travels.


Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

Continue reading “Update from our SCUBA diving volunteer opportunity and conservation holiday on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula, Oman (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam)”

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

In the last few days the elephants have really been travelling! One morning team found them in the mountains at the far south of the farm, and then the afternoon team found them at a waterhole on the north east side. (For those of you reading this that have already been to Okambara that would be in the mountains south of JM house, and then at Boma a few hours later!)

While our new box trap has not netted us a predator yet, we still have been consistently seeing tracks rather close to the trap, which keeps our hopes up for of a capture. We’ve also caught a porcupine (this one was also reluctant to leave the box trap), and another warthog. We also think we’ve solved the mystery of the closed-but-empty traps; tracks in front of a couple of the traps suggest a civet cat is setting them off, their small size enabling them to waltz out between the bars of the trap doors.

Civet cat
Civet cat

We have a couple of avid bird watchers, and it’s been enlightening to go out into the field with Anand and Suresh, because their keen eyes pick out roosting (and flying) birds that the rest of us need the binoculars to see. The duo has compiled a list of 51 positive identifications, and will add them to the expedition “bird journal” that Joe in Team 1 started. Several of us were lucky enough to go birdwatching (birdlearning?) with them on the day off.

Vera received a download from the collar of the leopard captured and collared during the last slot, and the data showed him repeatedly crossing the southern boundary of the farm. Vera immediately sent a team to investigate and they found the hole in the fence that he had been using and placed a camera trap there. Vera was ecstatic when pictures from the camera trap caught him in his patrol. Another good example of how useful it is to have so many helping hands, eyes and ears.


Speaking of camera traps, Sandra B. is such an enthusiast that she arrived with not one, but TWO of her own camera traps, and has added them to our efforts in strategic places on Okambara. One of her traps up north revealed a beautiful adult caracal as well as a very interesting oryx!



Continue reading “Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).”

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Wednesday morning a sudden change in the elephants’ direction of travel put the elephant team face to face with the entire herd. It was a nice encounter in the middle of the road, where the team was treated to a display of mock fighting between two young bulls. The youngsters were plenty far away from the vehicle, and were nice enough to play out in the open so the team was able to capture some great pictures.


The afternoon camera traps team collected the SD cards from several of the traps around the farm and we were treated to a slide show after dinner. We got to see game animals from some interesting points of view, as well as a visual reward from Team Twos’ legacy: remember the oryx calf kill we used to catch the leopard and then relocated the calf? We caught three klipspringer on the camera.


The trap also revealed three cheetahs that were quite curious about a stick Christian had moved in the roadway a mere hour before the curious cats came along (we caught Christian on the camera trap as well!). As you can see, we can get some very good ID pictures from the minute that they spent in front of the camera.


Further south of that camera another camera trap revealed a very curious leopard (was he licking the trap?) unfortunately too close to the camera for Vera to use for ID pictures.


Wednesday one group walked a new transect in the northeast corner of the farm, which we are now calling Tracks & Scats #12. After hearing about the several tracks and scats that were found, Vera decided to make a new activity on Thursday to re-position one of the box traps there. So all three groups set out in the morning to do box traps – one to check JM South, another to pick up and move the JM North trap, and the third went up to Bergposten to check the trap.

The Bergposten team of Gary, Sandra, Suresh, Anand and Alisa arrived to discover a very displeased honey badger in the trap. After conferring with Vera, the team went back to release it. Thanks to Suresh for his nerves of steel (no doubt due to his Army training) for liberating the annoyed animal. The fierce honey badger at one point climbed up and was hanging onto the top of the cage from the inside trying to get to Suresh (honey badgers have been documented as even making a lion back down). Yet once the trap door was opened, the honey badger left Suresh behind and made a run for freedom.

When finished, the honey badger team joined the other two box trap teams, who had just finished the lovely new corral. This relocated box trap is just east of the lodge for those of you reading that have been to Okambara. Hopefully the new location will prove fruitful and we will catch a leopard!


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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

The sun at last! the final two days of the trip have been stunningly beautiful, we were all up on deck enjoying the the sunshine! Harbour porpoise sightings and sunburn to worry about! We travelled 366.9 miles through storms and sunshine, with 28 sightings of 71 animals including three orca! The whole team went out for dinner on the last night and in the morning we had the inevitable goodbyes.

So this is the end of the Biosphere Scotland Hebrides expedition for 2013. The expedition has been a great success and I want to thank all participants for their efforts and contribution. Thank you also to HWDT staff and the crew of the Silurian for their efforts, as well as Swarovski Optik and BUFF(R) for their support. I am currently wrapping everything up for HQ and hope that you all had a safe trip back home.

I hope to see you again some day on one of our expeditions.

Best wishes


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Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia).

Our third team has arrived. They’ve brought along with them good luck and some strange weather. The first night, right on cue after the daily briefings, a rhinoceros family arrived at our waterhole. It’s always fun to watch the comings and goings just outside base camp.

Speaking of watching things, team member Sandra B. even brought her own camera trap, and while she caught mostly images of cows, she did manage to capture a couple of curious jackals sniffing out the trap. We haven’t seen last night’s visitors yet, but just as everyone was going to bed the elephant herd came to our water hole, and I can tell you it was a reverential event. Joerg Melzheimer, the biologist who brought Biosphere Expeditions to this beautiful study site and now makes sure from the wings that our science does what it’s meant to do, had just finished giving his presentation on the elephants and their behaviour, when all nine Okambara elephants arrived. I know we’re not supposed to use smart phones out here in the bush, but I for one am glad he rang them up and invited them 😉

Elephant drinking
Elephant drinking

The elephants proved a little more elusive during the day today as the morning team couldn’t quite locate them. It would seem they were on the move all day long, because the afternoon team found them, but they were almost 8 kms away from where we’d tracked them in the morning. Also this morning Vera gave us a presentation on how box traps work, and Gabi volunteered to give us a live demonstration on how the trap works.

Vera explaining the box trap
Vera explaining the box trap

Then Suresh took the initiative to get inside and get the job done. The group then split into three teams and we went about our morning activities.


All afternoon it felt like a storm was brewing with dark clouds, shifting winds, and we all got excited when we felt the first raindrop. But after two more drops the rain went away, and we were left with dust storms all over Okambara. It has been two very interesting days!


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