Germany: Opener

Welcome to the blog for the German wolf expedition 2019. My name is Matthias Hammer and I will be your expedition leader for this expedition. With us also will be Peter Schuette, our expedition scientist, and we both look forward to meeting you soon.

Peter Schuette (right) and Matthias Hammer (left). The person in the middle is previous expedition leader Malika Fettak who is in the Tien Shan at the moment.

I am on the Sweden bear expedition at the moment. It finishes tomorrow and I will then pack up and drive straight to Lower Saxony to set up the Germany expedition with Peter there.

You may be aware that there has been a heatwave in Europe with temperatures of up to 40C in Germany. It is meant to last for a few days longer only, but then the drop in temperature is forecast to be only 10C too, so expect a balmy 30C something. More on the weather and other conditions on the ground when I get there on Wednesday.

I hope your preparations are going well and you have all read the dossier, swotted up by reading the 2018 report and familiarised yourself with the scientific and cultural background.

I’ll be in touch again once I have made it to the expedition base. Safe travels and see you Sunday next week, group 1.

Tien Shan: Wilderness and Kozhomkul the Strong

I can write today, because we are at Suusamyr for our day off. We’re attending festivities celebrating the 130th birthday of Kozhomkul the Strong. Legend says that he crossed the mountains a long time ago in winter and when his horse couldn’t get any further because of the deep snow, he took it on his back and carried it over the mountains.

In the real world, work is going well in the mountains. On our surveys we have spotted ibex, marmot, golden eagle, found wolf, fox and other scats. Every day we saw sunshine interrupted by the odd rain or haze shower. The clear nights are cold, but the starry sky totally makes up for it. Karakol pass is still blocked by snow.

This morning all the peaks surrounding base camp had a fresh layer of snow on them. Because of this, only a few herders have moved into “our” valley – we have it to ourselves and the wilderness that surrounds us.

More from us when group 1 returns next week. Only a few pictures for now…

Sweden: Summer, moose, bear, beauty

Much has happened over the past three days.

We have mapped countless dens, scoured the woods for bear sign, and covered hundreds of kilometres in three or four groups to do so.

We have become proficient data collectors for Andrea who is pleased with our progress. As a reward, we met at a local beauty spot for a picknick yesterday after a day’s work.  And how beautiful it was – swirling waters, rapids, sunlight trickling through the trees and blueberry pancakes.

We have walked through beautiful flower meadows in the sunshine, across bogs in the drizzle, negotiated our way through pathless forests, treading across thick carpets of moss, lichen and blueberries, perhaps where no human foot has been for centuries – at least this is what it often feels like.

We have seen vast expanses of forests, dusty logging roads, beautiful, hidden lakes and picture-perfect Swedish villages deep in the forest. We have seen capercaillie, moose and, yes, a bear too, crossing the road in front of us as we were driving back from a day’s work.

We have dug a bear skeleton out of a bog to be handed over to the Swedish Veterinary Institute for analysis.

And back at base, where we are looked after very well by Elfie, the datasheets pile up, as do the hair scat samples, to Andrea’s delight. May it all help her in her work to conserve bears in this fascinating part of the world.

Tomorrow is half a day and then data entry. And then it will be the end of this inaugural expedition already. Time flies when you are having fun and I will let the pictures speak for themselves…

Sweden: Ten adults in the rain

“Fascinating how ten adults standing in the rain looking at shit can have such a good time”. This, or something like it, is the quote of the expedition so far.

We met up on Monday and made it to our expedition base in the woods for introductions, a safety briefing, background information and theory and equipment training.

Tuesday was more training and our first winter den survey in one big group – to put everything we’ve learnt so far into practice and to learn as we go.

Today, Wednesday, we started splitting into smaller groups as we get more comfortable with the methodolgy and finding our way around the study site.

So far we’ve had everything from amazing food, to sunshine, drizzle, downpours, to heavy bear scat, digging for bear bones in a water-filled ditch, meeting roe deer and cranes, to getting to grips with datasheets, GPSs, relascopes, denisometres, etc. etc.

Spritis are high, as are exhaustion levels after having spent a day out in the forest.

Tomorrow we are out in smaller groups to cover as much ground for Andrea as we can this week.

Some photo impressions follow:

Tien Shan: Setting up base camp, mostly

Base camp is set up, mostly. The truck heroically made it to our bace camp location high up the Suusamyr valley. We found it undisturbed and beautiful. The local people say summer is coming late this year and we haven’t seen many yurts of herders being set up yet. The Karakol pass is still under a deep layer of snow. It was sunny and warm during our six hour drive, but cold enough for a down jacket after sundown.

Bek and Bekbolot will be the two members of Grupa Bars with the first two teams. They did a great job with loading the truck and driving it up safely. With us will also be Gulya, our cook – probably the most important person during the whole expedition 🙂 All together we  set up two yurts – the kitchen and a common room – and have left the third yurt for the first team to set up upon arrival. While Gulya, Volodya and Bek stayed back at camp to finish setting up everything, Bekbolot, Amadeus and I are now back in Bishkek for more shopping, organising cars and picking up the first group up on Monday morning.

We will start our journey to camp soon after some short introductions and familiarisation with the cars for the drivers.

Enjoy your last day off and come well rested and prepared! 🙂

Bekbolot and Bek in the truck
Setting up base
Setting up base
From left to right: Bek, Volodya, Amadeus, Gulya
The road to base
The road to base, with traffic jam 😉
Setting up the yurts

Sweden: Getting there, sort of

First expedition lesson: Nothing is as constant as the change of plan.

We packed the car to the hilt and drove off with a great plan. Drive to Kiel (northern Germany) and board the overnight ferry to Göteborg (Sweden), get a good night’s sleep and arrive in Sweden fresh for a measly 470 km to the expedition base. The plan was good, the execution poor.

Packed to the hilt

We hit several massive traffic jams and a journey that should have taken six hours, took over ten. We missed the ferry. So no option but to drive past the ferry port and up north into Denmark, cutting east over the famous Öresund bridge that connects Kopenhagen (Denmark) with Malmö (Sweden).

Öresund bridge

So a relaxed journey became a wild ride through the night with a dinghy motel stop for a few hours of sleep. The drive through 720 km of Swedish countryside made up for it, sort of. Trees, trees and more trees. Sunshine. Bullerbü picture-perfect villages. 1800 km and 33 h later and we’re finally here now.

Somewhere on a Swedish road

Tonight is midsummer night, a big night in Sweden. We’re invited to a party and tomorrow we’ll connect with Andrea for a couple of days setting up.

The weather is a pleasant, sunny 20 something. The mosquitoes are out. Come prepared and remember that on expedition nothing is as constant as the change of plan 🙂

Tien Shan: Getting ready

Volodya (the expedition scientist), Amadeus (expedition leader group 3&4) and are in Bishkek and getting things ready. We have retrieved the camp equipment from a container set up in the backyard of the NABU offices, and checked tents, yurts , car equipment, water filters and all the hardware we need to run our camp far up the mountains.

A NABU conference room is now our impromptu office with all the paperwork laid and sorted out on a big table – datasheets, maps, clipboards, etc. We have gone through activities, schedules and procedures, charged the radios and batteries and prepared the GPSs. We have purchased a few electronic and additional items for the medical kit. More equipment is coming with people on group 1 (thank you for hauling it all to Bishkek for us!). Together with our cook Gulya we will go for a serious food shopping trip tomorrow and hopefully two of our spacious 4×4 cars will be enough to take everything back in one go!

Then Thursday evening  everything has to be loaded into the truck and taken into the mountains to set up camp 1 for group 1. Once set up, Gulya and Volodya will stay behind and I will come and collect group 1 for your time in the mountains, so get excited!

The weather has been pleasantly sunny and warm, but the temperatures will rise to hot (i.e. above 30 degrees over the next few days). I was told that it’s been a wet summer so far, so please come prepared.

NABU backyard
Impromptu office
Amadeus (left) and Volodya. We like the new hair/beard-style Amadeus 😉

Sweden: Opener

Hello everyone. My name is Matthias and I will be your expedition leader for our inaugural Sweden brown bear project.

Matthias Hammer

Our expedition scientists is Dr. Andrea Friebe of our Swedish partner organisation Björn & Vildmark (bear & wilderness).

Dr. Andrea Friebe

And the most important person on the expedition will be our cook, Elfie Weber 😉

Elfie Weber

Elfie and I are packing up as we speak and will travel from Germany to Sweden by car starting tomorrow. We will then meet Andrea at our expedition base and start to prepare everything for the expedition. Once Elfie and I have arrived in Sweden, I will send you another update (and my local phone number too for emergencies).

We hope your preparations are going well too and wish you safe travels. We look forward to meeting you all on Monday.

Tien Shan: Opener

My name is Malika Fettak and I will be leading the first two groups of this year’s snow leopard expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

Malika Fettak

I am looking forward to returning to Bishkek, the mountains and all the lovely people we will work with. Our partner on the ground is NABU Kyrgyzstan and more specifically the ‘Grupa Bars’, a four-person snow leopard patrol who will support us in the field in groups of two.

Dr . Tytar (right) and two members of the Grupa Bars

Dr. Volodymyr Tytar will be the scientist on this expedition. Originally from the Ukraine, he has been working on snow leopard research in different locations for decades and has been involved in our Tien Shan project from the very beginning back in 2014.

Dr. Tytar

Groups 3 & 4 will also meet Amadeus DeKastle as group leader who will take over from me after the first half. Over the next week Amadeus & I will prepare the equipment & paperwork, set up camp in the mountains, do the shopping, have meetings and briefings with helpers, partners and staff.

Amadeus DeKastle (c) Noel van Bemmel

I am about to arrive in Bishkek and meet Amadeus and Volodya. As we meet, here’s some admin for group 1: Please note that the meeting point at 8:00 on Monday morning remains at the Futuro Hotel as per the description in the dossier. From there we will drive in convoy (four cars) out of the city and into the mountains. We’ll need a couple of drivers to volunteer to drive one of the vehicles after a basic introduction to the (automatic) cars (a comprehensive off-road driving course will be part of the training at camp.) Please have a think about it already so that we can sort it out quickly when we meet.

I hope your preparations are going well. I’ll be in touch again soon from Bishkek. Once I’ve purchased a local SIM card I’ll share my local mobile number with you (for emergencies only).

That’s it for now, best wishes

Malika