Community expeditions update December 2020

The coronavirus crisis affects us all. All citizen science for 2020 had to be deferred from March onwards and only two out of a dozen expeditions had a citizen science element to them. Therefore, our partners were and are hard hit by lack of funding and citizen scientist helpers. Yet we were determined that conservation efforts continued despite, and even because of, the very difficult circumstances. This is why we ran a coronavirus appeal from 1 April to 1 December 2020 – to help get our local conservation partners through this crisis. The appeal raised close to €50,000 from 162 donors.

Here is a summary of what the funding has achieved so far:

In the Azores (whales & dolphins) our scientist Lisa Steiner was able to be out on and off the water from April to the end of the season in November. She has a written a detailed blog of what she saw and the data she could collect through the support of the coronavirus appeal.

“The funding from Biosphere Expeditions allowed me to get to sea and document that, for a second year in a row, the number of baleen whales passing by in the spring was lower than it had previously been. I only documented a few blue whales, one humpback and one fin whale, during April/May. There were also fewer Risso’s dolphins, one of the resident species. Sei whales, however, were regularly present throughout July, August, September and even into October. 2020 was a very good year for sperm whales. I was able to document several of the ‘regular’ groups of sperm whales and take over 100 different sperm whale ID photos. I also logged the resident bottlenose dolphins several times – in September with a couple of new calves – as well as false killer whales. Finally there were lots of spotted, common and striped dolphin, sometimes displaying incredible aerial activity. It’s all in the blog. My sincerest thanks to Biosphere Expeditions and those who supported their coronavirus appeal!”
Lisa Steiner
Expedition scientist, Azores

Lisa Steiner


In Germany (wolf), a small community expedition took place in July and there is also a blog. The community expedition walked about 250 km, covering 15 cells of the pan-European 10 x 10 km grid and collecting 163 wolf signs. From this they were able to glean evidence of seven wolves, amongst them one known breeding female. Three individuals were new to science, which is exciting.

“Thank you so much to Biosphere Expeditions, its coronavirus appeal and all donors towards our community expedition in Germany. Without the funding provided by the appeal, and in the absence of a citizen science expedition in the summer of 2020, there would have been no data collection and we would have had a big gap in our knowledge about wolves in our study area. Instead we were able to get out into the field, producing some exciting results. Thank you for making this possible despite the challenging circumstances.”
Peter Schütte
Expedition scientist, Germany

Scientist Peter Schütte (left) with a Germany community expeditioner


In the Tien Shan (snow leopard), our community camera trapping team have done very well to capture more snow leopard photos and to run a community expedition in September, collecting valuable data in the absence of our annual citizen science expedition. This meant we could produce a combined 2019/2020 research report showing snow leopard presence and making conservation recommendations.

“On behalf of Ilbirs Foundation and myself, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Biosphere Expeditions for providing financial support for wildlife monitoring and environmental protection in collaboration with local communities, despite the fact that the pandemic is growing worldwide and the world is facing a very difficult situation. I express my solidarity with the fact that Biosphere Expeditions is continuing its work this way, providing opportunities to all worldwide conservationists in protecting wildlife around the globe.”
Askat Dabyrovich
Ilbirs Foundation, Kyrgyzstan

The Tien Shan community expedition team (with Askat Dabyrovich on the left)


In Costa Rica (sea turtles), the project continued with just the local leaders, one research assistant and the biologist. The nesting season finished in October and the research station is closed until next year, when our partners are hoping to reopen it again in time for next season, pandemic permitting. The green turtle season in 2020 was slow (just 34 nests), for reasons that are not known, but not because of the pandemic. Because of this, the success rate of saving nests from poachers was almost 100%! For leatherbacks, there were 150 nests with hatchling numbers similar to previous seasons. There were also five hawksbill nests. The eventual poaching rate was around 40-50%, depending on the month. The percentage of nests saved at the end of the season and across three species was 59%. The poaching rate was of course higher than in years with citizen science support and therefore the percentage of nests saved was lower. But is still very good, given the very difficult circumstances.

In another positive development, a reusable hatchery was constructed for the first time in 2020. Hatcheries are built each season to translocate and protect nests to ensure maximum hatchling survival. We now have reusable fence and other structures that should last many years and make for a much better hatchery.

The 2020 hatchery with its reusable fence and other structures


In Thailand (elephant), our partners are working hard, and are succeeding, to get their local study herd of elephants through the crisis, plus those animals that are returning to the forest with their mahouts because they cannot make a living during lockdown. There are now 50+ elephants around the mountain villages or deep in the forest with their mahouts and food is running low, but fundraising has helped to buy extra fodder to sustain the animals through the crisis.

“Your tireless efforts for fundraising have helped us to continue to provide for our elephants. Our community has also assisted us to care for the many elephants that have had to return to our area for the crisis period. Every donation has contributed to this and has ensured our survival over these difficult times. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.”
Kerri McCrea
Expedition scientist, Thailand

Elephants in Thailand


In the Maldives (coral reefs), our local partner has instigated a new coral reef conservation project using coral nurseries to grow baby corals.

Coral nursery table


In Kenya (African biodiversity), we empowered local communities through technology with great success during the last international expedition that ran just before the pandemic hit and have published the report of this already. “Enonkishu is thriving as far as the wildlife goes. There were eleven lions, four wild dogs, and Kisaru, the cheetah, just on one walk last Sunday. It looks like Kisaru is pregnant again and sticking around to have her cubs in Enonkishu for a second year in a row,  which will be fantastic”, says conservancy manager Rebekah Karimi.

Kisaru cubs (c) C Flechtner


In Armenia (leopard, bear, wolf), the community expedition was planned for November, but had to be cancelled when the war in Nagorno-Karabagh, which is too close for comfort to our study site, broke out. With winter approaching, plans have been postponed to 2021.

Autumn in the Armenia study site

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