Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

4 July

After a late night arrival at 23:00 the previous evening and an exhausted team heading straight for some shut-eye, I could finally see what my team looked like as they were slowly emerging from their tents. We introduced each other over Ninaโ€™s hot porridge and despite the rain, started with the training. After lunch we split into two groups and while Jenny ran her science session with one, I did the Land Rover training with the other. Carol, Andy and Janine turned out to be excellent drivers and needed very little guidance. Rock crawl over some medium size boulders turned out to be the most popular activity, but what impressed me most was Louise reversing back into our car park, using only side mirrors!

5 July

Clouds still hanging over the camp, but luckily on the way out. We all headed up to Manul rock, to see if we could find any signs of elusive Pallas cat actually living there. We found nothing, but on the way to the saddle, we discovered plenty of very fresh argali and ibex droppings.

After lunch, we grabbed the compasses and not only found our way around the camp, but also learnt that North is the same in both the Northern and the Southern hemisphere. Quite a shock to some ๐Ÿ˜‰

I took Jenny to see my new find, the nest of an imperial eagle, only a short distance from the camp. The chick, already loosing its white fluff and growing proper feathers, treated us with suspicion as we sat nearby.

Imperial eagle chick
Imperial eagle chick

6 July

We were determined not to get beaten by the weather today and left the camp quite early, heading up Kunduyak valley. Susan, Louis and I went ahead to reunite with the group later. With clouds hanging ominously above us for most of the day, we marched all the way to the glacier and then split up. Jenny and I started the long slog to our first camera trap, taking with us Janine, Andy, Carol and Dermott.

Climbing up to the camera trap
Climbing up to the camera trap

Andy, an engineer, had a look at mysterious device we had found previously and to our disappointment confirmed it was just remnants of a meteorological balloon. Unfortunately we found our camera face down, right next to fresh ibex droppings. Grrrr!!!! A nearby rock fall was to blame for destroying our hopes, but luckily not the camera. Not all was lost though, as the camera did operate for three whole days and captured some great night images of…mountain hare. Small victory. We secured the camera even better and left it there, hoping.

Mountain hare
Mountain hare

Walking back to base camp turned out to be bit of an endurance event. Good weather turned its back on us and we were soon caught in torrential rain, sleet and hail. Back at camp the sun reappeared to help us dry all our wet clothes. Welcome to the high mountains! The Land Rovers looked a bit like Xmas trees, decorated with all that dripping gear.

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Peru Amazon jungle (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/peru)

With the expedition not too far away, we thought you might all like to see this recent camera trap picture of a jaguar taken not far away from the research station by our scientist Alfredo. With your help we are hoping to get more of these kinds of pictures, which are crucial for our research and conservation work.

Jaguar, camera-trapped near the research station (picture courtesy of Alfredo Dosantos Santillan)
Jaguar, camera-trapped near the research station (picture courtesy of Alfredo Dosantos Santillan)

Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with jaguars, pumas, ocelots, primates and other species in the Peru Amazon jungle

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

Team 2 has made it to our half-way point in the Altai.

Team 2
Team 2 on a roadside break

The permit fun continues with two very similar forms for entry to the Altai Republic, one acceptable, the other one apparently not. Common sense and pragmatism do not prevail here and so it’s back to our half-way point and back again this morning to fill in more forms. What fun! We should get to base late tonight to forget about bureaucrats and drown our sorrows in snow leopard survey work for a week or so. You have to laugh or you’d have to cry ๐Ÿ˜‰

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

Jenny is back in Novosibirsk and understandably up in arms with the rest of the team, because the last diary entry said “no snow leopard sign so far”. Let it be known that we were just being properly, scientifically critical, like, until we have a second and perhaps even a third opinion on whether the sign that Jenny and her intrepid team has found is indeed snow leopard. So put on your lab coat and goggles and watch this space for further information…

Lab rat
Lab rat

..and on that topic, here’s a little something about detecting wildlife

Meanwhile group 2 has arrived in Novosibirsk and has begun filling in forms so that the permit fun can start all over again ๐Ÿ˜‰

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

Slideshow group 1 snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia. Pictures courtesy of Jiri Haurelijuk.

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Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

It was more rain until Saturday (23 June), when there was not a single cloud in the sky. Jenny decided to head upriver, towards Kunduyak glacier, hoping to place some of our camera traps. It was hard going from the start across loose scree. Initial scans revealed only more marmots and a very exciting flyover by a lammergeier. We then had lunch at the conjunction of two rivers, surrounded by some beautiful golden flowers when we spotted three magnificent ibex, all males, sporting a very long set of curvy horns. The rest of the herd appeared soon after and we counted 17 of them. We set our camera trap and headed back. At base dinner and beer chilled by the glacier never tasted better.

Mountain meadow
Mountain meadow

The next day (24 June) we went for a scouting drive of Sailugyem and Chikacheva range. We parked the Land Rovers on one of the ridges and took a walk to nearby lakes, still filled with blue ice. We found ibex footprints all around and spotted some very agitated shell ducks and young imperial eagles. But the best was yet to come. On the way back to camp, we noticed some shapes running across the steppe and shortly afterwe realised that they were wolves! We followed in the cars at a respectful distance and were very pleased to see them disappear into the forest next to base camp. New neighbours! When the other neighbours (camels) came by for a visit later, eagle-eyed Debra spotted a lone wolf standing nearby, watching the camels intently. We were hoping for wolf howls in the night, but it was all quiet on the Altaian front.

Car park, Altai style
Car park, Altai style

On Monday (25 June) we split the group. Some of us went into the next valley to survey and set camera traps and others climbed under a beating sun to survey high ridges. We took it easy on Tuesday (26 June) as many of us were very tired and went to a nearby lake for some great birdwatching and spotting YAKs, our abbreviation for โ€œyet another kiteโ€.

For the rest of the week, the group then split into an overnight team and a stay-at-home team, with the overnighters returning to camp with tales of abundant prey, particularly ibex, but no snow leopard sign so far.

Jenny and Oleg started the long drive back while Nina and I stay back at base. On the way Jenny met up with Mikhail Paltsyn of WWF Russia to co-ordinate further our work. Over the next two months Mikhail wants us to cover quite a few areas, so we will have our work cut out! More from Jenny when you get here, eventually.

Thank you group 1 for all the hard work. Safe travels group 2 and see you at base on Tuesday!

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/namibia)

Update from our working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa.

A base camp in the making. Pictures from the last six months…

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Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

The view from my “front door” here at base camp is beautiful.

Front door view
Front door view

The weather isn’t playing along, however, with a lot of rain in the last 24 hours, the snow line moving to within a few hundred metres of base and the temperature dropping to 8 C. But this can change at a moment’s notice here in the mountains, so we are ever hopeful and besides it gives the English on the expedition lots to talk about ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ninaโ€™s hot porridge in the morning warmed us up. We got stuck into more training with Jenny introducing us to her datasheets, camera traps, GPS, navigation, etc.

Datasheet & camera trap training session in the mess tent
Datasheet & camera trap training session in the mess tent
GPS & navigation training session
GPS & navigation training session

We tested out the camera traps on some unsupecting marmotian neighbours and the results are as enouraging as they are entertaining.

The clouds only lifted briefly in the afternoon to allow us a short drive into the neighbouring valley to get our bearings.

Word from the neighbours (herders in their yurt stations some good miles further down the valley) is still about a couple of snow leopards on Sailugyem ridge right on our doorstep. It’s enouraging to see them come over and tell us about the sighting and it’s a good sign of the trust that has been established over the years. Well done everyone over the last eight!

With that piece of news, Jenny’s plan for the moment is to concentrate on Sailugyem for the first group, as well as scout out difficult and inaccessible Chicachova ridge with a few hardcore volunteers. That plan might change at any minute though, depending on the weather, permits, leakiness of the tents, fuel supplies, whether Jenny gets hot porridge in the morning, or a million other things. By the time you read this, the plan has probably changed. Welcome to expedition life!

Continue reading “Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)”

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

After the negotiating the jungle of Russian paperwork (which seems to get more farcical each year – don’t ask – just be prepared for long waits and the plan changing frequently) to get our permits, we’ve finally left that part of “civilisation” behind and arrived very late and very tired at our tranquil base camp in the middle of the Altai mountains, close to the Mongolian border. After the long drives and the bureaucratic frustrations of the last two days, being right in the middle of nature in the mountainous land of the snow leopard is a welcome relief.

Tranquil base camp
Tranquil base camp

This morning we’ll kick into action with our training and orientation sessions and the most important person of the expedition, our cook Nina, can start to work her magic to replenish our energy levels. Very few visitors get to this corner of the world. Getting here was an adventure already, often for reasons that we would have preferred to circumnavigate, but we’ve made it, we’re here and now the adventure for all the right reasons is about to begin…

Most important person of the expedition, our cook Nina, flanked by expedition team member Maral (left) and expedition scientist Jenny (right). Waiting for permits (what else!) at Kosh Agach.
Most important person of the expedition, our cook Nina, flanked by expedition team member Maral (left) and expedition scientist Jenny (right). Waiting for permits (what else!) at Kosh Agach.

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai)

With everyone in the right place at the right time for the expedition’s assembly, our convoy of Land Rovers started slowly snaking its way into the land of the snow leopard. Although well east of the Ural mountains, and therefore firmly inside Asia, Novosibirsk feels decidedly European. Caucasian faces dominate and so does European architecture and culture. On the 1000 km drive to the Altai, we pass through flat landscapes with cities and huge fields on day one, before crossing the border to the Altai and into some hills towards the end of the day. It still feels like Europe. Last night we spent at a half-way camp for a first taste of the tent camp life that awaits in the Altai. It’s been raining a lot in the hills and mountains for the last few days, so after the dust of the road, we mostly stuck to the mess tent.

Today we will drive deeper into the mountains, via three passes, leaving a bit more of Europe behind on each one. By the time we’ve crossed the third path, horses, Asian faces and strange non-Cyrillic script will make it feel like we’ve truly left Europe behind us and have arrived in Asia.

At the moment, however, we are still waiting for our permits, before we can drive off. Rumour has it that someone in the office in Gorno Altaisk where we are usually issued our permits was sacked a few days ago, so they simply shut up shop and we were faced with rolled-down shutters. After nine years of running this expedition you would have thought it is plain sailing. But bureaucracy here is ever resourceful in making things difficult. So you just have to be flexible and go with the flow, otherwise you’d just get an ulcer ๐Ÿ˜‰ Being flexible in this case will mean a luxurious lie-in for the team in their camp beds and some animal ID, navigation, safety and other training sessions at our half-way point until the permit issue is sorted. Stay tuned for updates on our progress, which will decrease in frequency now as we leave the internet, mobile phone coverage and other technical wizardry behind. Our connection to the outside world at base will be an (expensive non-broadband) satellite system, so please bear with us for the next update.

On our way into the land of the snow leopard
On our way into the land of the snow leopard

Update from our snow leopard conservation expedition to the high mountains of the Altai Republic in Central Asia

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