Arabia: Opener for 2019 expedition

Dear Arabia 2019 expedition team

This is the first diary entry for this year’s Arabia expedition and an opportunity for some introductions and to let you know what has been going on behind the scenes to prepare for the expedition.

I am Paul Franklin and will be your expedition leader this year. I led my first expedition with Biosphere Expeditions back in 2005 and this is my second year on the Arabia expedition. I am a professional ecologist and have also been lucky enough to travel to many of the world’s different environments.

Paul Franklin

It always fascinates me how fauna and flora has managed to adapt so well to different environments and in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) we will witness many examples of superb adaptation, to what seems to us, harsh conditions. One of my favourite wildlife sightings from last year was the toad-headed agama, which is definitely a creature built for desert life.

Toad-headed agama

At the DDCR preparation for the expedition has been happening for the last few weeks. Greg Simkins is the DDCR Manager and knows the reserve like the back of his hand. Greg has defined the scientific objectives for this year’s expedition and will focus on planning and allocation of daily work.

Moayyed Sher Shah is the Conservation Officer at DDCR and will be out in the field with the expedition survey teams most days. Moayyed and Greg will jointly lead the scientific part of the expedition.

Moayyed Sher Shah

Moayyed has recently joined the team at DDCR. He was born in Saudi Arabia and started his conservation career with Saudi Wildlife Authority at the age of 18. He has a BSc in Zoology and is currently finishing his Masters in Environmental Sciences from the University of South Africa (UNISA).
His first project was on the re-introduction and monitoring of Asian houbara in Saudi protected areas and he has worked on the sand cat project studying population status, home range, den use and morphology. Moayyed has worked on several re-introduction projects including Arabian gazelles and Arabian hares. Before joining the team at DDCR he was part of Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area management team managing ungulate populations, including Arabian oryx, ostrich, Arabian and sand gazelle.  Moayyed is a member of the re-introduction specialist group (RSG) and the IUCN Commission of Ecosystem management (CEM). His primary role at DDCR is to plan, control, develop and regularly monitor the conservation practices and environmental work within the 225 square km reserve.

Greg and his team at the DDCR have been busy preparing the base camp and checking the scientific equipment, including GPS units and camera traps. We will use four wheel drive vehicles to access the study areas on the reserve. One of our project supporters, Arabian Adventures, has kindly provided us with three vehicles to use on the expedition this year.

Expedition vehicle, courtesy of Arabian Adventures

Arabian Adventures provide desert experiences for visitors to the local Al Maha resort, also a project supporter, and will also host us for an evening of local food and star gazing.

We encourage expedition members to drive the vehicles and will provide some training on desert driving. Of course the vehicles can only get us so far and there is plenty of opportunity for trekking through the desert to the survey vantage points, often located on higher dunes that enable us to complete 360 degrees counts of the Arabian oryx, Arabian gazelle and sand gazelle; and to map vegetation communities.

I will travel to the desert very soon and continue to set up things ahead of you. When I get to Dubai, I will also share weather and other news, as well as my local number for emergency purposes. Watch this space for updates

The team and I look forward to meeting group 1 on 19 January at 9:00 in the Premier Inn and wish you all a safe journey.

I leave you with some impressions of the expedition you are about to join. Do swot up on the recently published expedition reports too. The more you know before you arrive, the easier you will find the training.

Best wishes


20 years of Biosphere Expeditions 1999 – 2019

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard was right in many ways, as by looking back over the last twenty years we can see what Biosphere Expeditions is all about. Having started in a small way with only two expeditions, we have – through our participants, staff and partners – contributed hundreds of thousands of days to conservation all over the world, supporting many NGOs and scientists to acquire the data and funding they need to make an impact. You can read in the anniversary issue of our annual magazine about the difference that this work has made to many places and people.

And what about the planet, the living biosphere, what difference have we made to that? We have spent the last twenty years helping to build the data that improves the chances for wildlife. And we will continue to do this essential work, as without the science underpinning our understanding of the world, we cannot make rational choices in support of its future. But we need to do more, especially these days, when it is difficult sometimes to be positive about the global environment. So for the next twenty years we are also going to be doing more campaigning – talking about limits to growth and new economic/environmental models that might work better for the long-term health of our planet. We will be talking about vegetarianism and making your flights matter – travelling with a purpose, in fact, living more thoughtfully. And this talking will make a difference as the answers are in our hands and through discussion and collaboration, we can effect positive change. Everything that we do now, in this anthropocene, this time of humans, matters. The latest science shows that things need to change now, and Biosphere Expeditions will play its part.

Watch this space/blog for further developments as our anniversary year progresses.

Dr. Matthias Hammer | Kathy Gill
Executive Director | Strategy Adviser