Tien Shan: Group 4 and wrap-up

Group 4 is back in Bishkek, and likely happy that Bishkek is warm enough for shorts and t-shirts! This fantastic group consisted of Jorg, Hubert, Dirk, Petra, and Mandanna (Germany), Aniek (Netherlands), Tom (Australia), Dina (Australia/Italy), and Eileen (Australia) in addition to myself (Amadeus), our excellent cook Gulya, our two local NABU guides Zhyrgal and Zhengish, as well as our scientist Volodya.

Nobody ever likes to say it, but the expedition got off to a rough start right after leaving. Stopping at the shopping centre to pick up any last minute items is always a great idea, but one of the cars had a bit of an issue when we tried to leave again… Nobody knows how it happened, but a very small square magnet made its way into the ignition slot and we couldn’t get the key in to start the car! Fortunately we were able to get a locksmith to take care of the issue and we finally got on our way without any other troubles on the journey. And really, what is an expedition without a few little hiccups so that there is a story to tell at the end!

Obviously because of the magnet, we arrived a bit late to camp. Even though we were all a little tired, Tuesday’s training day still went ahead as planned. Wednesday saw us go up to Sary Kul for the traditional training walks. One group reached their destination quite a bit earlier than usual, so they decided to go further to a small glacier. How great to have a group wanting to push their limits, even on the first day out!

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t interested in letting us keep working hard the way we had hoped. On Thursday we ended up driving to the village of Dong Alysh to visit their zoology museum. We got an excellent tour of the museum and were quite happy with the way the day turned out. The next day we resolved to get into the mountains though, regardless of the weather.

On our day off we got to watch some excellent ulak tartysh (goat polo) and Mandanna and Eileen ended up carrying the goat around for a while! Lots of horse riding, and then Zhyrgal and Amadeus played a round together. Amadeus was able to pull off a victory, but really it was just a great afternoon of traditional games between a group of friends. After such a game of course we had to have some food, so we went over to Joldosh’s yurt for a very filling traditional meal.

A great story from this group involves a tiny goat named Tony. While we were walking through a new valley called Kashka Suu, Eileen and Dina heard a little noise and saw a baby goat all by itself! There was no herd anywhere nearby, so they picked it up and carried it over near where the shepherd was. Amadeus was there to help translate, and the shepherd told us that the goat was much too young to be his, and that we should just leave it there. He said it would probably die, but that it didn’t matter to him…so we asked if he thought it would be ok if we took it back to camp with us. Dina carried him the whole rest of the day, even with the buzzards circling above! Upon arrival at camp, Tony ended up being our new mascot! Petra and Dina became the little guy’s new “aunties”, and everyone enjoyed having him around. Upon leaving we handed him over to the neighbour, Shukurbek, to take care of. We’re sure he’ll enjoy his new herd!

Although we did get up close and personal with some of the local animals, here is the rest of our important data:

  • Our total cell count was 55, which is amazing considering our weather and group size!
  • We found evidence of snow leopard, wolf, fox, argali, ibex, roe deer, marmot, snowcock, badger, stone marten, ermine, and a few new bird species including the blue throat and greenish warbler.
  • For the first time in six years of study in the region we saw a Turkestan pika! This is very exciting as it is also considered a snow leopard snack, but more so because of how rare it seems to be in our study area.
  • We also made new records of over 100 petroglyphs in two unexplored valleys.

As I’m sure you are all aware, this research would never have been accomplished without each and every one of you. I love the science behind the expedition that we run here in Kyrgyzstan, but sometimes I think I do what I do more because of how inspiring you are! Thank you to groups 3 and 4 for getting out of your comfort zones, waking up to freezing snow, hiking through rain to search for scat, enjoying sprawling vistas from ridge-lines, laughing together in the yurt, and for taking care of one another. You are the heart and soul of our expeditions, and it was an absolute pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with you all this summer. I’m thankful that through Biosphere Expeditions we had the opportunity to get to know each other through our mutual love of snow leopards and conservation!

Till next time,
Amadeus DeKastle

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