Tien Shan: spanner in the works

Our plans have been thrown into disarray once again by the coronavirus.

We thought Kyrgyzstan was doing well and keeping the virus in check, but as it turns out we are only just at the beginning of the country’s first wave.

We have also just found out that all of our Community Camera Trap Monitoring Group (CCTMG) members are sick with COVID-19 symptoms. They are all from the village closest to our expedition base camp and from what I’ve heard, nearly every household in that village has at least one sick person in it.

So in the interest of all, we have postponed the community expedition. We will keep assessing the situation and keep you updated on here.

Some good news though is that recently in June, before they got sick, the CCTMG team was able to go into the mountains, do some more survey work and collect another SD card from a camera trap in our study area.

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On this camera were more grainy night images of a single snow leopard, as well as some ibex and other species.

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This is great news amidst the pandemic. Let’s hope that our people and the country can recover to a point where we can get back up into the mountains.

Tien Shan: missing our citizen scientists from around the world

Usually by this time of the summer we’re already getting started with our  expedition here in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan. In fact, mid-June is my favourite time to be up in our study area as the wildflowers are in full bloom and the mountains are at their most beautiful. More importantly for our research though, the number of shepherds is minimal, which increases the potential of seeing our study animals. This year though is obviously very different. It is increasingly challenging to create plans too far in the future, and as such, we were not sure that the lockdown in Kyrgyzstan would be lifted by this time of the summer. So instead, our community expedition will be taking place at the end of July for a total of eight days with the main goal of camera trapping and extending our community-based conservation work. Without our international citizen scientists, there  won’t be much time for us to do the normal surveys that are a big part of the project year after year.

One of the first teams, in 2017

Both the people and the data they collect will be sorely missed! It makes you realise the importance of people from around the world coming to join us each year, working hard towards the goal of snow leopard conservation. It will be a very different expedition without them.

Amadeus DeKastle
Expedition leader

Tien Shan: exciting community camera trapping results

We’ve gone through all the community camera trapping team pictures now and we have some very interesting results:

Fox (1 record)
Ibex (many records)
Snowcock (4 records)
Pika (2 records)

As well as young ibex playfighting

And most interestingly and excitingly of all, a young ibex being stalked/hunted by a snow leopard

Once again, well done community camera trappers!

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.