Tien Shan: Group 3

Group 3 is back in Bishkek, with amazing stories to tell! This hard working group consisted of Clemens, Gerd, Marcus, Nadja, Ulf and Helena (Germany), Andi (Austria), Geoff, Amelia and Lyndal (Australia) and Stuart, James and Anjum (UK), in addition to myself (Amadeus), our excellent cook Gulya, our two local NABU guides Zhyrgal and Zhengish, as well as our scientist Volodya.

Leaving Bishkek as soon as possible on Monday morning was probably one of the best things all of us could hope for as the temperature was already in the high 30s at only 09:00! After a (thankfully) uneventful drive, we reached base camp in the late afternoon, had a quick tour around, and proceeded to set up our tents before a good first supper.

Once our training day was done, we got right into things with a day into the Sary Kul valley, putting our training into practice. Apart from some marmots and ibex bones, we didn’t get much out of our first day out, but it was great fun all the same. Everyone was super excited to get into the thick of things.

One funny story that must be told is the search for the Issyk Kul camera traps. Although a valiant effort was made,  armed with a GPS with coordinates, the team that set off to find two camera traps in Issyk Kul were not able to locate them…quite frustrating! The following day, the team tried again, and instead of finding two, they found three! Upon return to camp though, Volodya had a look at them, and found out that one of them had not been switched on! But the other cameras had hundreds of photographs on them…unfortunately again, this was because when they were picked up, this time they weren’t turned off! So there were a lot of photographs of the camera being carried around through Issyk Kul Valley. Blurry images of boots, rocks, grass, and other items along the trail. But in the end, there was one ibex that had been captured as well as perhaps the ear of a fox.

On our day off we got to watch some excellent ulak tartysh (goat polo) and Ulf, Helena, Andi, and Clemens even got cajoled into playing a mini game! It was awesome to see them playing so well and the local shepherds loved how the four of them were so into it. It even got so real that Clemens (accidentally?) got whipped by one of the others in the battle! After such a game, of course, we had to have some food, so after watching another game of ulak, we went over to Joldosh’s yurt for a very filling meal of local delights. What an excellent opportunity to get so up close and personal with the local culture.

We also had a special treat during the second week. A group of archaeologists had gotten in touch with Amadeus just a day before group 3 left Bishkek, and had asked if they could set up camp nearby for a day and come along with us on a day out to see some of the petroglyphs and burial mounds. It turns out they are considering using our snow leopard citizen science work as an example for getting people to come to Kyrgyzstan to do archaeological research. It was great to learn more about the cultural history of the area from these experts.

So now the part that I had a hard time waiting to write…

After multiple snow leopard signs being found by various members: tracks, scrapes, kills, and scat, a group made their way up to Chong Chikan where two camera traps had been set up by previous groups. This is in an interesting location where there is a tiny bit of cell phone reception, so there is a high amount of shepherd traffic. The team brought back two cameras, and were completely tired out from the trek. I later went through the images on the computer…shepherd…shepherd…shepherd…shepherd’s dog…horse tail swish…horse tail swish…and on and on it went like that. And then all of a sudden, a night shot with two glowing eyes! I jumped up out of my seat and called everyone in camp over to the computer to show them an excellent photograph of a beautiful snow leopard! Words just can’t expressed how happy everyone was to see such a great picture!

On that note, here are the rest of our data:

  • Our total cell count was 56, a new record
  • We found evidence of snow leopard, manul, wolf, fox, argali, ibex, roe deer, marmot, snowcock, badger, stone martin, stoat, and plenty of birds. We basically checked off nearly everything on the list in this group!
  • We also made new records of nearly 100 petroglyphs and have data on 19 different species of butterfly.

Group 4, I look forward to meeting you and getting back up to the mountains so we can get even more research done. All groups have done a sterling job so far, so let’s keep it going group 4. Are you as ready as I am to get into the mountains and find more signs of the mountain ghost?! Yes? Then I’ll see you at the Futuro Hotel at 08:00, Monday morning.