Tien Shan: One week to go

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Preparations begin long before our snow leopard citizen scientists start their journeys. This expedition especially involves A LOT of preparation. Our partners in Kyrgyzstan have been getting things ready and I, Roland, have now joined them in Bishkek for the last week’s push before the expedition starts.

Bishkek is located in one of the few parts of Kyrgyzstan that is not mountains and the weather here is hot hot hot and hazy. We will be heading up into the mountains in a few days to set up base camp and recce our expedition area, which will be much cooler – we may even have snow at base camp on some nights.

In the meantime, there is shopping to be done, kit to check and 4×4 vehicles to prepare. And meetings to be held too. Our base in Bishkek is the headquarters of NABU Kyrgyzstan, our main partner here, and this is where I have been spending my time when not shopping. I have been joined by Amadeus, a veteran of the Tien Shan expeditions (and former placement) and Taalai who is our new scientist directing the snow leopard research this year. I have also met Gulia, our base camp cook and Aman, our chief ranger, as well as Jirgal, Jengish, Ayan and Bek, the NABU rangers from the Grupa Barz (the NABU ranger group tasked with protecting snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan), who will be joining our groups on a rota system.

I am happy to say we are on target with preparations. Most of the shopping is now done and we have been through most of the kit – everything from tents, cooking stuff and fuel to a full mobile office and various gadgets for communication, navigation and safety. New this year are wooden huts for the toilet and shower (the tents used in previous years were not up to the job) and a set of GPS devices that give us digital mapping (for general navigation), a tool for research and a means of communication in an emergency in a region with no phone signal. We have also invested in a solar power system so that we can charge all the gadgetry properly. Tomorrow we will be joined by Malika, also a veteran of many a Tien Shan expedition and our expedition leader for the first group starting next Monday. But first, there is base camp to set up. I for one can’t wait to get up into those mountains.

We’ll send another diary entry once we are back in Bishkek. Happy packing, group 1!

From left: Tolkunbek (boss of NABU Kyrgyzstan), Ayan (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Roland (expedition leader), Bek (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Jengish (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Jengish (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Taalai (expedition scientist).
Amadeus and Aman food shopping
NABU truck that will get all the gear to the mountains
Container for gear storage and “flatpack” shower and toilet blocks
One thing the pandemic has taught is is meeting online more. Here Biosphere Expeditions executive director Matthias with the team in Bishkek

P.S. Roland now has a local SIM card and his number is +996 9972 07208 . This will only work when he’s in Bishkek though, so for example for group pick-up and changeover, but not when he’s in the mountains, where there is no mobile phone signal.

Update from our Kyrgyzstan expedition to the Tien Shan mountains, volunteering in snow leopard conservation.

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