From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

It took us eight hours form Bishkek to base yesterday, including some scouting stops. We were lucky to have a sunny day on the Bishkek side. Driving over the pass, the views are spectacular on a clear day. The tunnel through to the other side, however, is dark, dank, full of fumes and scary.

Without the truck and scouting stops, it should take us about six hours on Monday with Group 1. Yesterday, we arrived by 19:00 and put up the kitchen and mess tents, as well as our own. When darkness fell at around 21:00, we had something resembling a base.

It drizzled when we put up camp. When we rose at 05:00 this morning, this had turned into snow. Pack acrrordingly! The snow did not stay for long on the ground, but the mountains around us are covered in icing sugar not far from our base.

The pictures show a bird’s eye view of camp. Our British Ecological Society approved toilets are marked in red. If we have time, we will produce a video of how to s**** amongst the rocks. Watch this space… Other pictures are Shilo and Volodya putting up tents, Ronald sorting out paperwork in the mess tent with our maps and summary datasheets in the background and Emma in action in the kitchen tent. As I write this, the drizzle has turned into rain. Don’t you love the sound of rain on a tent flysheet!

Base Camp birdtentsemma

Continue reading “From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

A day of extreme shopping and packing. It’s almost 22:00 and the most important man of the expedition, who is actually a woman, Emma, our cook, is still not back from food shopping yet. Perhaps it’s all been too much and she has run away. We’ll be in tents then, but just eating raw carrots and bananas.

Anyway, we’re sure she’ll be here any second. The boxes are all packed and tomorrow morning we’re off into the field to establish Base 1 for Team 1. The picture shows the truck all packed up with (from left to right cook Emma, expedition leader Ronald, scientist Volodya, Aman from Grupa Bars and Shilo from Grupa Bars).


The next diary entry should be with pictures of/from base via satellite phone, but here’s one of Bishkek with our study site in the background for now. Not a bad view for a day’s work in the office.


It’s been two no-cloud, blue and sunny days here in Bishkek. The next three days are forecast to be overcast, but then it’s meant to be sunny again. Mind you, this is on the Bishkek side of the range. The other side sports the coldest place in Kyrgyzstan, where -54 dec C have been measured (in winter). But yes, you’ve guessed it, that very place is quite close to Base 1. Appropriate clothing therefore modelled below. Spot the snow leopard in the background!

cold base

Continue reading “From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

From Matthias in Novosibirsk, Russia:

The month says June, but it’s 5° C in Novosibirsk. There’s a clue in the name – Siberia.

Here in Novosibirsk our gear has been in a Cinderella sleep since the end of the Altai expedition. We awakened it today and bundled it all into a minibus. Those of you who have been to the Altai might recognise Oleg (right), our friend and helper from Altai days. His friend Dennis (left) is providing his minibus and driving skills to get us to Bishkek. We’ll be leaving this afternoon.

Dennis & Oleg

From Ronald in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:

Hi everybody. My name is Ronald and I will be your expedition leader for the first three groups. I arrived in Bishkek on Sunday morning hitting very pleasant weather conditions: sunny, light wind, 21 degrees C. To be honest: it will be colder in the mountains (probably between freezing and 16 degrees C).

Writing this diary, I am sitting in the office of our partner organisation NABU not too far away from the centre of Bishkek – a restless, busy and turbulent capital. The most important news for now is that we have found an experienced cook (even in the outdoors) who is also willing to stay with us in these remote locations. As she does not speak any English, Volodya – our scientist who arrived on Monday – has now got an additional job as translator 😉

Our cars are ready to go and the list of equipment that has to be organised gets shorter and shorter, and our pile of equipment gets larger and larger. It’s all currently strewn about in one big room of the NABU office.


This morning Matthias, Oleg and Dennis arrived after a mammoth trip from cold Siberia via the endless steppe plains of Kazakhstan and finally into Bishkek. They took turns at driving through two nights and a day and a half, 42 hours in total for 2000 km. You can calculate the average speed and state of the roads from that.

So we’re all here now (from right to left): Matthias, Biosphere Expedition’s founder and executive director; Volodya, our scientist; Ronald, expedition leader; Aman & Shilo, members of NABU’s Grupa Bars and local staff.


We’ll be in Bishkek for another couple of days before setting up base for you in the mountains. I’ll meet team 1 at the Grand Hotel as described in your dossier. Be there or be square! And please don’t forget to get some pocket money (in SOM) for sweeties, special drinks or similar at the airport because there will be no time for ATMs or money exchange on Monday. My mobile phone number you already have.

I am looking forward to meeting team 1 soon.


Continue reading “From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

Volodya, Ronald and I are about to board our planes in Kiev, Berlin and Frankfurt to make our way to Bishkek. Volodya and Ronald will fly to Bishkek and I will go via Novosibirsk in Russia. This is where we have quite a bit of expedition equipment stored still from our Altai expedition. We’ll bundle this into a truck and drive about 2,000 km across the plains of Kazachzstan to Bishkek. While I try to keep my eyes open and on the road, Ronald and Volodya will organise the cook, check out the hospitals that we will hopefully never need, photocopy the datasheets that we will hopefully need lots, and generally get things ready for the arrival of team 1.

kazach plains

All being well Ronald, Volodya and I will meet up in Bishkek in a few days. There’s the small matter of the border crossing with a truck full of camping gear. Wish me luck for this, otherwise you’ll all be sleeping out in the open under the stars 😉 Safe travels Team 1. We’ll see you in the not so grand Grand Hotel on 9 June.



Continue reading “From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

Welcome to the first entry of our new Tien Shan snow leopard expedition. My name is Matthias Hammer and I am the founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions. I’ll be with the first group, start this diary off and then hand over the baton to expedition leaders Ronald Seipold (groups 1-3), as well as Paul O’Dowd (groups 3-5). More about us, as well as our expedition scientist Dr. Volodya Tytar, is at have all been very busy getting this trailblazing expedition ready for you. Ronald, Volodya and I will make our way to Bishkek on 1 June and set things up for you there and in the field. As you can imagine, setting up a new expedition is a heck of a lot of work. We’ll do all we can, but it’s essential that you come with an expedition, not a holiday, attitude. Please expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to go wrong and all of us having to help (each other) out whilst having a laugh about it all. In return you get the bragging rights of having been on a real trail-blazing expedition into the wilds of the Tien Shan mountains, not some cushy wildlife tour in an air-conditioned bus. Talking about tours and/or safaris, if you are hoping to see a snow leopard, please make sure you visit your local zoo (see As I am sure you’ve understood by now, seeing a snow leopard is not the be all and end all of our expeditions by any means. We’re focused on the research and gathering data for conserving them, not on taking pictures or seeing them with our own eyes. Personally, I don’t get the obsession with seeing something yourself anyway. Isn’t it enough to know you are in snow leopard habitat and working towards protecting this and its flagship species? But that’s another story we can mull over by the campfire soon….

Onto the research. We’ve put some resources of maps, datasheets, field guides, a methodology manual, etc. on for you. A map of our study site including the cells we’ll be working in/through is at “Cells” I hear you ask? By way of explanation we’ve put a video of our methodology below for you as well.

It would be great if you could watch the video and use the resources provided to do some studying before you arrive. We’ll hit you with lots of information in the first couple of days and the more you’ve swotted up on things beforehand, the more you will remember, and the more useful you will be in the field. The datasheets and methodology may be confusing to start with, but if you read up now, we can explain things in the field more easily if you come with some background knowledge already.

Once you’ve seen all the materials, including the itinerary, all your last hopes of a relaxing holiday in the mountains with snow leopards dancing around base camp whilst you sip your martini outside your luxury tent should evaporate like the tufts of cloud whisking around the peaks of Ala Archa national park 😉 …. only to be replaced by the knowledge that soon you will be part of something genuinely new, important and useful in snow leopard conservation in Kyrgyzstan. And what, I ask, has more value? You could have opted for a beach holiday. Instead you are going to spend your time and money helping Volodya and our partners NABU out in the field. Thank you – I take my hat off to you for that.

That’s it for now. We’ll be back in touch with updates to the resources and from Bishkek when we get there. We hope your preparations are going well – do find some time to read through the materials we’ve made available.Best wishes


Continue reading “From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (”

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