From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa

Like the swallows who departed from my fields in Scotland last month, I too have completed my annual migration. I have arrived in South Africa.

The joy of travel is apparently in the journey, not just the destination. However, delays at 06:00 on my first flight quickly eroded some of that enjoyment. But, four flights later and I’ve finally made it to George. It is great to be back.

I’ve met up with Alan, we picked up our cooks (Melda and Gurli – great to have them back) and we completed the supply run – though Alan did most of the work before we all arrived in town.

The joy of the journey quickly returns when you take the two hour drive north to Blue Hill; our expedition base for the next two weeks. As George disappears into the distance, the roads narrow, the vistas widen and the mountains rise.

We are all heading on a ‘journey with a purpose’ – well, that is how the dictionary defines an expedition. And talking of that purpose, Alan suggested I might want to set the scene for our forthcoming activities…. these will include:

– Deploying camera traps to new positions, service existing camera traps;

– Assisting with bird and biodiversity surveys in the Karoo with BirdLife South Africa’s Dale Wright (Western Cape regional manager);

– Assisting with a PhD project looking for Cape Rockjumper nests (working with John and Lizzy from the USA), and possibly some trapping;

– Establishing permanent monitoring plots for endemic plants used to make tea;

– Mammal mapping, and;

– Of course looking for leopards!

We’ll also squeeze in some bat work and data entry. Should keep us all busy.

Your journey is almost complete, the purpose is about to begin and on arriving at Blue Hill you may realise that this expedition is very much about the destination.

Safe travels, group 1. You will be picked up at the assembly point by a bus from Zeelie Taxis (same procedure for group 2). They will make sure you get here and Alan, I and the rest of the team at Blue Hill look forward to seeing you soon.

From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa

Hello everyone

With a week to go before the expeditions starts, it’s time for the initial introductions. I am Craig Turner and I’ll be your expedition leader in South Africa this year. It is fantastic to be going back to this part of the world to work on this project.

I am not on route yet, but I am in the midst of preparations. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself, and Dr. Alan Lee, our project scientist for the duration of the expedition. It’s great to be returning to work with Alan (and his family) for a third year. I’ll save the rest of the introductions until later next week, so they are fresh in your memory.

Craig (front) and Alan (back)

I am guessing many of you, like me, are in a whirl of preparation and beginning to think about packing your bags. So I hope you’ve all been eagerly reading your expedition materials and know to bring many layers of clothing. The weather can be a bit like four seasons in one day, so prepare for warm, cold, possibly wet and hopefully dry. Just like the weather in my adopted home – Scotland!

Hopefully you have also seen the recently published 2016 South Africa expedition report, so will have an idea of some of the planned activities. This also is my opportunity to flag up our expanding bat survey work. As this year, in the spirit of citizen science, we are hoping to turn your iPad or iPhone (if you are travelling with them) into a bat detector.

I’ll leave you to continue your preparations and will be in touch later this week from South Africa. I look forward to meeting group 1 next weekend.

Safe travels…

Expedition leader

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

The last week of the Sumatran tiger expedition has been very busy. The team took part in a village ceremony the day after the buffalo sacrifice. It was a festive affair with traditional music, dance and song. The whole team also went on an overnight camping trip to survey cells far up the river. One of the survey teams had quite a fright when two sun bears ran out in front of them! “Febri had to sound the air horn to scare them away from the area before we could safely continue the survey” explains Paul from the UK. In the same survey cell scat from a leopard cat was also found, a rather rare find. The other team did not encounter any bears, but they did get a birds-eye view of the reserve after a very steep climb to a clear summit.

We also visited the school in Batu Sanggan village. This is one of the eight villages that lie inside the reserve. About 40 children attend the elementary school there and they were all eager to learn about the rainforest and its animal inhabitants. One of the five rangers that work in the Rimbang Bailing wildlife reserve accompanied us to the school visit, and in the evening back at the research station we had the chance to ask him questions and he told us about his work in the reserve, “We work closely with WWF and one of the most important parts of my work is education. Through education and local empowerment we have managed to turn 60 hectares of palm oil plantation back to the reserve and we are currently working on reforestation of that area.” This is good news indeed, considering the rangers here have no power actually to enforce the rules of the reserve, and lacking any boats to patrol the reserve themselves the partnership with WWF is of utmost importance.

During the second slot of the expedition, we successfully collected all of the eleven camera traps that were placed by the first team and surveyed the same amount of cells. One extra camera was placed behind the research station, making it twelve camera traps in total. We conducted four interviews with local villagers, hosted one school group at the station, and visited one school inside the reserve. The camera traps recorded banded palm civet, pig-tailed macaque, long-tailed macaques, barking deer, mouse deer, porcupine and wild pig. We also recorded signs of agile gibbon, siamang, sun bear, water buffalo, leopard cat, wild pig, porcupine and long-tailed macaque during our surveys. This is good news as it means there are plenty of potential prey for tigers. More good news is that Febri’s tiger team who work deep inside the reserve caught tigers mating on one of their camera traps this year. Hopefully there will soon be more tigers inside the reserve.

A big thank you to everyone who has helped out this year. Thanks to your tireless effort we have successfully been able to survey the northern buffer zone of the Rimbang Bailing Reserve, an area where data was seriously lacking. Because our focus this year was there, no tiger signs were recorded, but closing this gap of knowledge was very important for the overall picture that WWF is building of Rimbang Baling and tiger survival there. The outlook for tigers is much better at Rimbang Baling than many other places in the world – and you have contributed to making it so. Thank you from me, from Biosphere Expeditions and WWF for giving up your time and money to do this. You also helped educate local communities about the importance of preserving the forest. This is also vital if tigers are to have a future, because their future is tied intimately to that of their human neighbours in remote areas such as Rimbang Baling. So thank you again for your contribution and I hope to see you again sometime, somewhere on this beautiful blue-green planet of ours.

Ida Vincent
Expedition leader

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