But what does that mean for expeditions in 2021 and will Biosphere Expeditions survive this crisis?
With no expeditions since February 2020 and therefore the almost total loss of income, survival still hangs by a thread, but we are fighting hard and are rising to the challenge. In a few months, we will be able to see whether we can pull through. Chances are looking increasingly positive and we will soon start another campaign to get us over the line.
As to other expeditions around the world, it’s too early to make predictions now. Much will depend on vaccine rollout across the planet, as well as on how confident people will be to travel again to remote, far-flung places, and of course whether they will have the funds to do so. We expect to be able to make some more confident predictions by January, so watch this space. in any case, the expeditions to Arabia and Kenya, scheduled for January and February respectively, were deferred to 2022 quite a few weeks ago.
In Kenya (African biodiversity), we empowered local communities with 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.
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.
Biosphere Expeditions is still here, albeit with all hatches battened down in an effort to survive the storm. Here’s an update to an interview with our founder and executive director, Dr. Matthias Hammer, about the situation at the moment.
Q: Our last interview was on 18 August 2020. What has changed since then? What’s the new situation and thinking?
Of course this presents a huge challenge to what we do. We are not expecting there to be many expeditions with citizen scientists in 2021. In fact, we recently postponed our Arabia and Kenya expeditions, planned for January and February 2021, for a year to 2022. I expect many other expeditions to follow suit. If conditions are favourable, we may be able to run the odd expedition in Europe later in 2021, but our honest assessment is that not much else will be possible in 2021. It may even not be possible to run any expeditions at all in 2021.
Q: What does that mean for the survival of Biosphere Expeditions?
A: To be honest, it will be very tough. We can probably weather the storm until the end of 2021. Getting there will be hard and we have to be very careful and plan well, which we are doing, of course, but beyond that it will become very difficult indeed to survive without expeditions running.
Q: What can people do to help?
A: First and foremost support our coronavirus appeal. The focus of the appeal is on our local partners and enabling them to continue with their critical conservation work despite the crisis. They too face a tough struggle and the more we can support them, the better for them and their conservation initiatives around the world. The appeal will finish on 30 November and we’re going for a final push over the next few weeks. We’re 80% there (from 124 donors) and hope to raise the last 20% (just under €10,000) too as we reach the home straight. Please give generously! Thereafter we will run a Biosphere Expeditions survival appeal to help us come out the other end.
As you have probably read in the news, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has flared up again with a vengeance. As our study site is close to this area, all project work there has been suspended and there will be no community expedition as planned for late October / early November.
In the Azores (whales & dolphins) our scientist has been out on and off the water since April and has a written a detailed blog
In Germany (wolf), a small community expedition took place in July and there is also a blog
In the Tien Shan (snow leopard), our community camera trapping team have done very well to capture more snow leopard photos; the community expedition heads into the field tomorrow, after we had to postpone things earlier when the virus hit Kyrgyzstan hard during the summer – watch this space for more updates
Our original terms & conditions under “Terms & conditions of Biosphere Expeditions Ltd. (Ireland)” still apply. The relevant sections are under the headings ” 4. Withdrawal by you” and “5. Change to expedition or cancellation by us”. In particular, and under pandemic conditions, this means that if we cannot run the expedition if the coronavirus situation does not allow us to do so at the time, then we will offer an alternative date to those signed up already and apply deposits paid to this new date, which will usually be around the same time the year after. The same applies if we do not have enough people signed up to an expedition to be able to run it. In addition, next to the offer of deferring to the same expedition at a later date, we will also offer those already signed up the chance to sign up to any other expedition on our portfolio for the next 15 months. Deferment terms will be handled very flexibly so that you can take whatever time you need to tell us which expedition you would like to defer to. If we do need to defer, we will tell everyone in good time, which means two months or more in advance. We also strongly recommend cancellation insurance for everyone, as we have always done. We do not offer this insurance ourselves, as we are not an insurance company, but there are many commercial options out there.
This is not our usual scene, but an article in the Daily Mail says that “post-coronavirus, we will think about holidays differently, so volunteering definitely has a chance of rebirth” and cites our Tien Shan snow leopard expedition as a “life-changing conservation break” for “when we can travel again”.