Germany: Community expedition without international citizen scientists

We were looking forward to continuing our active wolf monitoring for the fourth year in a row. But then corona came.

Still, thanks to the Biosphere Expedition’s coronavirus appeal and the generosity of the donors, we can still run a small field campaign this year (there are still €451 missing to our target, so if there is anyone out there feeling generous, there is still time to make up the shortfall; we can run the community project as is, but with the extra funds, we would not have to compromise on a few things).

Preparations are underway and we have found an alternative base, because our usual ‘Herrenhaus’ base will not reopen until August. We are in contact with our friends from the state wolf bureau, the State Forests and are ready to get going soon. The team will comprise myself, Lotte Steinberg (who now works in wolf conservation in Thuringia), some wolf commissioners and also some former local citizen scientists who have attended the expedition every year since its start (and therefore are very experienced and do not require any training).

The wolf population in Germany continues to rise and there are some local hotspots where livestock is predated upon. In addition, wolves are pushing into new areas, which never fails to create anxiety within local human populations affected. There is an intense debate going on in Germany about wolves.

This is why baseline data are essential and it’s great that we can continue to collect data this year, in spite of corona, even if it is on a much smaller scale and without the help of international citizen scientists. You will be missed, not just because of the data you collect, but also because of the team spirit you create.

Once again many thanks to all donors who have made this community expedition possible. Without you, we would not get into the field this year.

Watch this space for updates…

Peter Schütte & Lotte Steinberg

Pandemics result from destruction of nature, say UN and WHO

Experts call for legislation and trade deals worldwide to encourage green recovery

Pandemics such as coronavirus are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, according to leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International, and the world has been ignoring this stark reality for decades.

The illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places were still the driving forces behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans, the leaders told the Guardian.

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The virus is both a chance and a challenge

As the coronavirus pandemic has a stranglehold on the planet, travel plans have had to be cancelled everywhere. Even those where people help nature conservationists during their holiday time as citizen scientists.

Peter Laufmann spoke to Executive Director Dr. Matthias Hammer.
(this is a translation from the original article in German in natur magazine)

Dr. Matthias Hammer, Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions

Laufmann: The corona pandemic seems to be giving nature some breathing space. That must please you as a nature conservationists, right?
Dr Hammer: Of course! I am very happy about nature being given a chance to recover for a change, instead of the continuous assault of the last decades. There is also the hope that humanity as a whole will stop to ponder for a while. That we realize it is possible to work from home, to fly around less, etc.

What’s the situation like in nature conservation?
Well, for us, for our citizen science / wildlife conservation expeditions, the effect is of course that we won’t be able to carry out any projects in 2020. But that is the lesser of two evils. The bigger evil is the situation of our local partners.

How come?
It is much worse for our local partner organisations. In the developed world, we can apply for state aid. Besides, we are a very lean organization. We don’t have large offices which we have to pay rent for and the like. Our running costs are very low. State aid, as limited as it may be, helps us a lot. But our local partners are in a difficult situation. There, there are by and large no such programs. And much of their income has disappeared. For example in Enonkishu, a conservancy in Kenya, their main income is the fees that tourists pay when they come into the reserve. This has dropped to zero practically overnight, so they now have a reall challenge on their hands to keep paying their rangers and other staff. And if no rangers are being paid, how do they fight poaching? Not only that: the increasing poverty through the crisis also increases the pressure from poaching as cash-strapped people go in search for bushmeat, for example.

So what does this mean?
There are two sides to it: It’s both a chance and a challenge. On the one hand, it’s a chance for nature to recover, because there are no visitors. In the Red Sea, for example, the water is clear and the reefs are recovering, as the ecosystem remains largely on its own, because of course there are no divers or tourists causing disturbance. On the other hand, the lack of money is a real problem, as I explained earlier. Conservation costs money.

How can we counteract this? Both on a large scale and you with Biosphere Expeditions?
We are a relatively small organisation. Our influence is correspondingly small. At best we can do something on the ground with our partners and bring money and, of course, manpower to advance their conservation projects. But since this has now ground to a halt, we have also started a fundraising campaign. Our project partners have written a few lines about what they currently need money for; where their need is greatest. And I have been surprised by how generous people are despite, and perhaps because of the crisis. For our partners this really is a godsend in their hour of need.

How does Biosphere Expeditions deal with the fact that there are now those calling for a fundamental change in the way we travel?
Air travel in itself is of course bad for the environment. There is no question about that. If there are no contrails in the sky, everyone has a basic understanding that this must be good for the planet.

How does Biosphere Expeditions deal with this dilemma?
We have several approaches. First, it is a fundamental concern of ours to eliminate ourselves in the long run. In other words, we want to advance projects to a point where we are no longer needed. Take the Maldives, for example: via expeditions there for eight years, we have established a non-profit organisation (www.reefcheckmaldives.org), which is now entirely run by locals. The reef research that we have done with volunteers is now under their leadership. Point two is that we encourage our participants to offset their carbon footprint. I am aware that this is also under criticism, but as part of the mix, I believe it is a positive thing. We as an organisation naturally compensate for the CO2 our activities produce as well. Thirdly, we must not forget that the alternative to tourism is often the chainsaw or total overfishing. In other words, nature conservation takes place because there’s an economic benefit for local people to intact wildlife and wild places. This is what we conservationists call the ‘what pays, stays’ principle, whether it is via safari tourists or through citizen science projects. It’s too shortsighted to reduce everything down to CO2 exclusively, although we must keep an eye on this. The world is more complicated than just CO2 budgets.

How will the pandemic influence your citizen scientist projects?
That’s a difficult question to answer. The crisis will be with us for a long time; years rather than months. We have contingency plans in case expeditions are still impossible right through to 2022. How people’s behaviour will change… I wouldn’t want to predict this as this is not my area of expertise. But I do believe that the desire to do something useful in your holiday time will keep increasing in people. This was already evident before the pandemic and will hopefully get a further boost now.

Is this the end of tourism?
I am afraid not. As soon as lockdown restrictions are relaxed, people will by and large fall back into old habits. Still, it would be nice if humankind could become significantly more mindful through this crisis.

What should politicians do to support nature conservation and environmental protection in times like these?
On no account lower environmental standards! Under no circumstances save the big polluters. The money that is saved by not bailing out destructive corporations should be put to good use elsewhere in combating climate, the other and more dangerous challenge humanity faces, and preventing destruction of wildlife and wild places. We need the planet as the basis of all life and economic activity. For on a run-down planet, there will be no life worth living and no economy to speak of.

How does someone use their time during lockdown?
There are lots of ways to help from home as well. Citizen science also works during lockdown. You could for example analyze photos of animals or galaxies, or provide computing power for virus research. The possibilities are endless.

(c) Peter Laufmann

All 2020 citizen science now deferred to 2021

The world remains in the grip of the coronavirus. Many countries that we operate in continue to keep their borders shut and some are still expecting their first peak, let alone a second wave. In fact, in many countries that we operate in, things are predicted to get worse before they get better. And a vaccine will take time, or it there may never be one.

Because of all this, we have decided to defer the citizen science elements of all our 2020 expeditions to 2021. These are:

Expeditions that happend early in 2020 and are now scheduled to repeat in 2021 as normal are

An overview over all expeditions is on our website as a list and a map.

Please note that project work has not been cancelled. It is only the citizen science element that has been deferred to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Project work with local staff only will continue and you can see on our appeal page what is planned in terms of community expeditions and project work. If you can, please support our efforts to raise funds for this!

You can also read about community expedition efforts already under way in the Azores and Tien Shan.

We continue to feel very strongly about the need for continued conservation efforts and supporting our local partners and staff despite, or indeed because of, the unprecedented and very difficult circumstances. We hope you agree. If you do, please give to our coronavirus appeal to enable our local partners & staff to do just this.

Tien Shan: community expedition in coronavirus times

The coronavirus has forced us to make major changes to our efforts here with the Tien Shan snow leopard expedition. All citizen science elements of the expedition have been deferred to 2021, but we are still able to push ahead with a community expedition this summer, thanks to the generosity of those who have contributed to the Biosphere Expeditions appeal. We are lucky in getting our community expedition funded through this. There are other projects out there that are not fully funded yet, so please, if you can, consider supporting those too. Anyway, thank you to all donors who have funded us!

Right now we are in the planning phase of how to pull all the different partners together here in Kyrgyzstan. As always, we have our inaugural partner NABU on board with their Grupa Bars (anti-poaching patrol) staff.  Also joinung us this year will be  Askat Mukabaev, who is a full-time conservation biologist at ILBIRS, another local conservation NGO here in Kyrgyzstan. Beyond that we have our community camera trap monitoring group that will be joining us as well. The expedition leader this year will be me, Amadeus DeKastle, as I’m already here in Kyrgyzstan, having lived here for a good while!

Community camera trapping group at work
Some Grupa Bars members
Amadeus DeKastle

This year will be very different from previous expeditions, but at the same time, I know we are all looking forward to continuing this project and collecting another valuable data set this summer. Our community camera trap monitoring group has already collected some of the camera traps that are accessible and which have been out in the field since the end of the 2019 expedition. And we have a new image of a snow leopard in a new valley! It’s at night and blurry, but it’s definitely a snow leopard. Well done community camera trappers!

Original camera trap photo
Zoomed in and processed

So the excitement is there to check the camera traps that are still in the field, and also to use our community expedition really to develop the community-based conservation element of our work.

We are looking forward to the expedition (and will keep you updated via this blog). For next summer, I hope that things will be back to full capacity so that we are able to experience an expedition together again.

Coronavirus appeal update

Our coronavirus appeal for our local conservation partners & staff stands at 38% (EUR 23,296) raised. An overview of where each partner stands is below. Thank you for your generosity so far. Please keep on giving!

ALMOST THERE

  • GERMANY (wolf) – total ask EUR 4,500 / total raised EUR 3,549 (78.9%)

NEED MORE SUPPORT

  • THAILAND (elephant) – total ask EUR 5,500 / total raised EUR 205 (3.7%)
  • ARABIA (sand gazelle) – total ask EUR 5,000 / total raised EUR 250 (5.0%)
  • COSTA RICA (sea turtles) – total ask EUR 6,500 / total raised EUR 495 (7.6%)
  • MALAWI (elephant and African biodiversity) – total ask EUR 9,000 / total raised EUR 862 (9.5%)
  • ARMENIA (Persian leopard, lynx, bear, wolf) – total ask EUR 4,500 / total raised EUR 740 (16.4%)
  • MALDIVES (coral reefs) – total ask EUR 3,000 / total raised EUR 995 (33.2%)
  • KENYA (Big Five and African biodiversity) – total ask EUR 9,000 / total raised EUR 3,200 (35.6%)

FULLY FUNDED

  • AZORES (whales & dolphins) – total ask EUR 2,000 / total raised EUR 2,000
  • TIEN SHAN (snow leopard) – total ask EUR 3,500 / total raised EUR 3,500
  • BIOSPHERE EXPEDITIONS operational costs – total ask EUR 7,500 / total raised EUR 7,500