Update from our snow leopard expedition to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan
With temperatures reaching above 40C in Bishkek, group 1 was more than ready to get up to our Alpine base camp where cool weather abounds. On the way there we had our lunch stop at the top of the Too Ashu mountain pass. Looking down on the Suusamyr valley was a fantastic way to break up the driving. When we arrived at base camp we quickly settled in, thanks to Bek, Beka and Volodya having already set up tents for everyone. We did pitch our third yurt all together tough.
Training on Tuesday and Wednesday morning went well and so we were able to get out for our first transect walk Tuesday afternoon. We went to Sary Kul valley, where interestingly this year there is a shepherd’s yurt for the first time. And not only that, while talking to him he told us that a week ago he had come across what he thought was a dead snow leopard cub. Unfortunately he did not take any pictures, and even more unfortunately is the fact that this cub was found dead, but this does give us a very strong indication of snow leopard presence in the valley.
We have also been up a few other valleys, including Issyk Ata valley, where we have previously discovered snow leopard tracks. There was a lot of snow in the higher elevations, and so we were not able to get up as high as we would have liked, but Volodya found two good locations to set up camera traps. Beka has also placed camera traps along the ridge in another valley near our base camp. However, even with all the effort we’ve put in so far, the weather is very uncooperative. As I mentioned in my initial diary entry, it has been an unusually wet summer, and that is very true up in the Alpine valleys too. I don’t think we’ve had a day without rain yet! As a result, we’ve only had direct sightings of secondary snow leopard prey (marmot and snow cock), but with one week left to go there is still lots of time left for group 1 to collect more data!
Something else very special that happened during the first week was the birthday celebration of the grandson of our shepherd neighbour. It really felt as though all the shepherds in the entire valley showed up for the party! There was lots of food, Kyrgyz traditional games like wrestling and Kok Boru (horse polo), and an opportunity for us to ride horses, meet lots of local people, and get dropped right into an amazing cultural experience!
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