From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (

Ramadan is upon us and the expedition is taking a break. But the work does not stop.

Febri has published a preliminary report for the first three groups. It’s available via The report is in Bahasa, but a translation of the summary is below. It’s a Google Translate, so by no means perfect, but you get the gist. Of course an English report will be published after all six groups have been this year.

Franz, one of the journalists on the first group, has also just published an article in German broadsheet FAZ. This is at And we’ve already told you about the article in South African Wildside magazine, but here’s the link again, in case you’ve missed it

Groups 1 – 3, we hope you have good memories. Groups 4 – 6, we hope your preparations are going well.




Rimbang Bukit Bukit Baling landscape is a priority landscapes the Sumatran tiger conservation efforts (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and has been included in the Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL) so getting global attention to the conservation of endangered species. Constitute lowland rainforest hills that keep diversity high biological as well as a water tower for dozens of counties underneath. This landscape is also populated by people who are still use natural resources wisely. Because of its potential high, one of the activities that are very relevant to be applied in this landscape is activity-based biodiversity and ecotourism local culture. WWF – Indonesia, Biosphere Expeditions, and Groups Work Batudinding work together to initiate tourist activities. The second component is based on the locale. With participants are foreign communities of various continents in the world, citizen scientist become the focus in this ecotourism activities. This activity is titled expedition tiger Sumatra held throughout the 6 (six) slots each – each two week of the month from May to June 2015 and from July to September 2015. Scientific Aspects become the main focus in the implementation of this expedition where we have a goal or a big goal because research on tiger expedition Sumatra is a crucial activity that through this activity able to provide a lot of information related to tigers and is also related with their biological information for conservation and management Rimbang Bukit Bukit Baling landscape. Initial results on the 3 (three) slot tops the period of May – June 2015 that it had conducted three core activities, namely survey both signs of the existence of wildlife as well as the installation of a camera trap, survey of social aspects related to the protection and human-tiger conflict, and environmental education at several elementary and secondary school level. This activity has a positive impact on wildlife conservation efforts as well as habitat, empowerment of local communities, as well as the development of activities ecotourism special interest in landscape Baling and Bukit Bukit Rimbang surroundings.

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (


Here, at last, is the diary for slot 1 of our Tien Shan expedition. We could not get it to you because there is a big mountain range blocking the sat phone signal in the south. Calls can get through, but data can’t. Since this mountain range is unlikely to move over the next couple of months, please assume that field updates will only come every two weeks, as we switch teams and go back to Bishkek. Unless we haul the sat phone up the mountain with us on one of our surveys. You never know 😉

12 June (Friday)

A collective sigh of relief could be heard last Monday, when the team left Bishkek. The city heat – temperatures beyond 30 degrees – were happily left behind as was dust and heavy traffic. Snacks were picked up in a supermarket on the way and the convoy of three cars stopped for lunch when the tunnel was passed at 3200 m altitude. Overall it took us about 7 hours to get to base camp, so teams 2 – 4 please be prepared for a long journey.

08:00 o’clock. It’s a fresh and clear morning. The warming rays of sunlight haven’t yet made it over the eastern ridge sheltering base camp, nestled in a small side valley of the Karakol river. We’ve seen all four seasons since team 1 arrived four days ago. Rain made us seek shelter in the mess tent for the first expedition day’s training sessions, while the surrounding peaks were covered with a fresh layer of snow. Carolyn, Susan, Theresa, Charlie, Robert and Thorsten learned how to use GPSs, maps, compasses and radios, went through safety briefings and off-road driving lessons. After a practice survey walk with the whole team including Volodya, the scientist on this expedition, as well as Shailoo and Aman from NABU’s snow leopard patrol, and Kathy, one of Biosphere Expeditions’ senior staff joining the first slot, they have now all left camp in smaller teams for today’s surveys.

So far eleven cells have been surveyed in two days in Choloktor and Chon Chikan valleys. I will be talking a lot about cells – a grid of 2 x 2 km laid over the study area map in the Tien Shan mountains divides the terrain into these cells, which will be surveyed systematically.

No camera traps have been set yet. Snow is still covering the most promising spots. Over the next few days we’ll continue to explore the area hoping for a lot of sun to melt the snow away. Findings so far were wolf scat (a lot) and an ibex skull and horns, a red fox and marmot were sighted as well as quite a few golden eagles, just to mention a few.

P.S. Please remember to bring insect repellent, there are some mosquitoes around 😉

15 June (Monday)

We’ve continued exploring the valleys around base camp. On the third survey day, Susan, Robert & Theresa went together with Aman to the other side of the main valley and up the mountains we look at from base. The day’s motto was “slowly, slowly” since everyone was feeling a bit worn out after three days of going up and down lots of hills. Not so Aman, who was briefed intensively the night before about what “slow” means to us. 😉 The second group consisting of Volodya, Carolyn, Charlie and myself walked up what the locals call the “boar stream” pretty close to camp. We’ve crossed alpine meadows, scree fields and climbed up rocks before reaching the ridge at 3792 m altitude. Most animals signs such as ibex scat, argali footprints and snow cock scat, feathers and dust holes were found within the rocky habitat well above 3400 m. Further down, abundant marmot holes were spotted, a big colony of them must once have lived there.

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The weather changed overnight from sun to rain and wind. Leaving Carolyn & Charlie, Susan & Robert behind, two cars left camp in the morning for a shopping trip to Suusamyr. Not a quick one since the town at the entry of the Karakol valley is about a 2½ hour drive away. The tasks on our list were: 1) buy bread, 2) buy milk and 3) buy a chimney for the yurt stove. Doesn’t sound complicated at all, but we failed with two out of three. Instead of milk we could have bought a great variety of vodka (even from the smallest shop) and for the chimney a local herder suggested to go back all the way to Kara Balta close to Bishkek on the other side of the Kyrgyz Alatoo mountain range. But bread we got! And also a taste of yoghurt cakes, a local specialty recommended by Emma, our cook. But to be honest, this was probably the most disgusting flavour Kathy, Torsten and I have ever tried. I guess you can also tell that from Torsten’s face on the picture. ϑ

At breakfast this morning our hopes for better weather seemed to be nothing but wishful thinking. But just when we decided to stay half a day at camp, the sun came out and everyone was ready, dressed and packed up in record time for another survey walk. This year’s first interview was held with a very friendly herder offering Kathy a ride on his horse, which was thankfully accepted 😉 Being a cattle herder he didn’t have any problems with snow leopards in the past, not even wolves because the cattle can defend themselves. A woolly ball was brought back to camp and analysed during the review session after dinner. We learned that these remains are produced by birds of prey regurgitating bones, feathers and other parts of their meal that can’t be digested.

16 June (Tuesday)

The sun laughs at us again! It’s been a clear night, the water drops on my tent were frozen this morning. Everyone is excited to finally go out for an overnighter. Camp is as busy as an ant’s nest. Emma is preparing food boxes, Aman and Shailoo are preparing cooking gear and packing up cars, everyone else is gathering equipment and packing their sleeping gear. Kathy and I wave them goodbye as they leave. We will go through some re-org in the next couple of days.

18 June (Thursday)

SNOW LEOPARD TRACKS! The overnighter team is back, exhausted, but thrilled about two exceptional survey days and a “night out”. The camping spot was chosen close to the mountain pass connecting the Eastern and Western Karakol at an altitude of 3500 m. Still partly covered in patches of snow and therefore not crossable for herders and their livestock from the Eastern side, this area would be worth a check before the cattle, sheep and horses will move in for the summer. Well done, everyone! The snow leopard tracks found were not fresh, but still clear enough for identification without any doubt. Two camera traps were placed, now everyone is hoping for some good results.

20 June (Saturday)

Slot one is ready to leave base camp. We did a reccee walk yesterday researching more overnighter possibilities in order to reach more promising rocky mountain areas at the far end of some of the valleys. Aman has suggested we follow an old track leading uphill over grassy hills not knowing where it would lead us to. So we drove as far as the cars would take us and continued on foot split up in two teams. An old herder’s place was found – an optional overnight camping spot close to a mountain stream. A badger was spotted as well as ibex far away on the rocky peaks of the mountain range. It was early in the afternoon when we returned to camp leaving us some time for final checks on the cars, the tents, the equipment and a detailed review of the results of what the team has achieved over the last two weeks. 26 cells have been surveyed – an impressive number considering the small number of citizen scientist on the first slot. We’ve spotted or found tracks of all snow leopard prey species such as ibex, argali and marmot. Tracks and scats of wolf, fox, badger and snow cock were also found and quite an impressive number of different bird species is already on the bird list, which will be continued until we leave in August. But most excitingly the presence of snow leopard was proven by tracks. This success was celebrated after Volodya’s review and another delicious dinner with quite a few toasts and some local vodka.

21 June (Sunday)

The first two weeks of this year’s Tien Shan expedition went in a flash. While Carolyn and Charlie will stay for two more weeks, I had to say good-bye to Kathy, Theresa, Sue, Robert and Torsten after a final dinner in Bishkek. Thank you everyone – you’ve been a special and a great team! Thanks for putting your time, sweat, mountaineering expertise and excitement into this project. Safe travels back home. I hope we meet again some day in the future!

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

We’ve had a call from base camp. They are having trouble with the satellite connection. They can phone us, but the data connection for diaries and photos is not working, so this is just a short message to say that everyone is safe and doing well. We’ll send a diary entry as soon as we can, but it may only be at the changeover 20 – 22 June.

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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (

We have now retrieved all camera traps. Not far away from one trap, the team found civet scat and tracks. This is a fantastic finding but of course everybody was anxious to see if there was also a civet trapped on the camera. Unfortunately not. But again mouse deer, wild boar, porcupines, macaques, great argus and even pangolins romped around in front of the traps. The tiger, too, remains hidden.

Jatt, Anh and Ryan started their overnigher in the rain north of the last village in the reserve, Ludai Dusepakat. A new dirt road, about three years old, gives the villagers better access to the outer world. The result is obvious: plantations all over and more logging. Very hilly landscape and dense forest made it difficult for the team to cover ground. Nevertheless they found sambar deer scat and tracks as well as a muntjac tracks. Well done. Before their return, they conducted an interview. Interesting is the fact that the villagers speak their own local language. Interviewees reported an overall decrease of wild cats in general, but in December 2014 a tiger was reputedly heard close to the village. In what way this information can be trusted is not clear.

Thursday to Friday night heavy, heavy rain poured down for more than 12 hours without a break. As we came down to the river this morning to start our return trip to Pekanbaru, we could not believe our eyes: the river level had risen so much that the “jetty” of our Field Station had disappeared – all steps were completely submerged. Nevertheless we made it back safely and almost dry.

Two more weeks have gone very quickly. It was a hard slog sometimes, so well done everybody. Thank you for the very constructive discussions and your contributions.

We realise that elusive tigers is frustrating and that the effects of all our hard work may not be immediately obvious, especially if you do not come across our main target species. But we ask you to be patient. This is our first year in Sumatra and, as we say in the Reality Check, science is not safari and the planet will not be saved on a single two-week expedition. Instead it takes years, sometimes decades, for conservation successes to establish themselves and take a firm hold.

For example, we spent ten years working in the Altai, researching snow leopard presence, building local capacity and trying to create economic incentives for local people to keep their snow leopard neighbours alive. When we started, there was no national park, little awareness, research or infrastructure, and rampant poaching (I am sure this must ring bells with you in Sumatra). Now we have a national park, national park staff, anti-poaching patrols, several research initiatives, much more awareness and many ways for local people to benefit from the presence of the snow leopard. Poaching continues to be a threat, as is the Altai gas pipeline, but all in all this is a remarkable turnaround and success story, and we are very proud to have played our part in this. We’ve had many successes through citizen science voluntourism over the years (see and the Altai is yet another excellent illustration of how citizen science-led conservation expeditions can make a genuine difference.

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We all hope that in time, Sumatra will join this list of successes. Please do not underestimate your contribution, even if you did not find tiger evidence on your group. You already know how underresourced Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve is and how difficult it is to make a living through anything but plantations, logging or otherwise environmentally harmful activities. Running the expedition to this remote place for three months makes a big difference to the rangers, public perception in the area, especially how the tiger and nature is perceived, and so many more things besides. Do not underestimate the effect the expedition has on these levels. And in time, as we build our networks, we will get deeper into the forest to protect the tiger and its habitat. Thank you for being a part of this process.

Finally, I would also like to thank all the team for your supported and commitment throughout. It was a pleasure and fun working with you. After Ramadan, Anthony will take over from me as an expedition leader. I wish slots 4-6 the best of luck.

Stay sharp …

stay sharp




From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (

Those of us who have been around for a few weeks realised recently that something was missing. It took us a while, but finally it was more than obvious: the sound of the jungle has changed compared to the previous weeks. There were no chainsaw noises any longer. The explanation is that the river levels are now too low for being used for transportation of logs. And for us the “true” jungle noises have come to the fore.

On Sunday, our day-off, almost everyone was out on a long boat ride down the southern Subayang. The weather was great and with fantastic manoeuvring in shallow water, Sapri, one of our boat drivers, made it deep into the reserve. It took us 2.5 hours to arrive at the small village of Pangkalan Serai. It is the last village down this river and is almost in the centre of the reserve. Far away from civilisation about 100 families live there. Originally they stayed in traditional houses, but most of them were destroyed during a big flood at the end of the 1990s. For electricity they built a generator that is driven by waterpower. Our appearance was the first time that foreigners like us have been to this village. On the way back we also stopped at a village that is known for its boat makers. It was interesting to see the different steps of the “production” of these longboats.

Jatt had a football match in Tanjung Belit. In the afternoon over 20 players showed up and proved their technical abilities. Although quite a lot of spectators were around, the game takes place in harmony and silence. Even after a goal the excitement is at a minimal level. An interesting experience for us all!

On the work front, we retrieved camera traps installed in previous slots. With great expectations we stared at the computer screen. The result: porcupine, mouse deer and macaques. But this is a good result as it has been our first camera placement. The tiger still remains elusive.

Tomorrow morning Jatt, Ryan and Anh will leave for an overnighter north of Kota Lama. While I am sending you these lines they, are preparing for their adventure.

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (



You will be glad to know that our visit to the mountains has resulted in a site for camp 1. You can see the location of base camp on this map, as well as the grid lines we will be using during the survey (more below also).

You will also be glad to know that the weather was great and the mountains as beautiful as ever. And that the bread tastes the same, as does the fermented horse milk 😉 The ominous tunnel we have to take through the mountains is also there with much-needed repairs being done to it and delays. We’ll have to see how this pans out when you all arrive, but be prepared for a long break on the way to base camp.

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You will also have seen the publication of last year’s report with our commitment to further research and local involvement, which is just what you are about to do. Remember that science is not safari and that results can take a long time. The great thing about your involvement is that we have a long-term source of help in the field as well as funding. And long-term commitment is what is needed. Thank you to all of you for this!

So, after a brief stint in Bishkek for last minute shopping and to collect Kathy, another member of the Biosphere Expeditions staff, we’re now off again to set up base camp.

So as we prepare at this end, please can you do some more preparation too. In addition to studying the dossier, have a look at the “Methods & equipment” playlist. The bits that are relevant to the expedition are first and foremost our cell survey methodology, followed by GPS, compass & map, Garmin etrex 20, PBLs, camera trapping and binoculars. Enjoy!

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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (

Expedition participant Anh missed nothing more than her luggage when she arrived at Pekanbaru. And still, with the great help of the WWF office, we were able to start the 3rd slot almost on time and arrived safely, with all our luggage, at Subayang Field Station.

This was not the only reason to celebrate as Peter, a veteran of more than a dozen Biosphere expeditions, conveniently arranged to have his birthday on our arrival day. His birthday cake was “inhaled” within seconds.

Expect the unexpected. This was the motto of the first few days of this slot. Already in the evening after our training session, all team members were ready to leave for their next day’s surveys with all equipment packed, destinations checked and GPSs prepared. Very ambitious!

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On our way back from the very first short stay in the field, we were able to watch a small group of siamang monkeys for quite a while. We then found in the middle of the forest in a hilly area something that we were not able to identify from a distance: Unfortunately it was not an unknown species. No, it was a balloon with a funny grin that had probably had been blown there by the wind. Later, we have had a really good interview with a plantation owner that gave us a better understanding of their view. And finally the generator at base camp gave up. So we enjoyed our ‘romantic dinner’ with candles and in unusual quietness.

The generator has been fixed in the meantime and this morning we plan to go down the southern Subayang river, deep into the reserve. Let’s see if the unexpected will continue to appear.

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

It’s 06:00 in the morning. Writing this, everyone else is still fast asleep, but very soon it will get busy at the NABU offices. Volodya, the expedition scientist arrived two days ago and preparations are now in full swing. Soon we will be heading out for a reconnaissance drive to the southern side of the Kyrgyz Alatoo range, investigating this year’s conditions on the ground and finding a good spot to set up base camp for slot 1. From what we’ve heard, it has been extraordinarily wet in the mountains over the last few months, most probably there will be snow cover higher up.

A couple of days ago we collected the base camp equipment from storage – a garage outside the city of Bishkek. It’s a good thing we have the truck, kindly supplied by our local partner NABU. Since then every single item has been unpacked and checked. Emma, the expedition cook, joined us on Tuesday, just back from a trip to Russia. We’ve started working through our shopping list at one of Bishkek’s biggest markets. Besides many other kitchen items, we bought a new cooker, but not before Emma gave it a thorough check. After more shopping at innumerable hardware stores and supermarkets, we went to a private supplier to check a yurt we are planning to buy.

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The placement interviews went well. So far four local people will join the expedition slots – one Kyrgyz student in the first slot, two more in the second and one in the third slot. We continue to receive applications and more interviews will be held in the remaining days before our departure from Bishkek.

I’ll be back in touch once we return from our mountain reconnaissance drive.

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