Expeditions update Azores and beyond

Azores expedition update

The island of Faial, where our Azores expedition is based, continues to report zero suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus. Because of this and because our local staff and partners are willing, able and keen to collect data as planned, if need be with a skeleton crew, we will run the project as planned. We also feel strongly about the need for continued conservation efforts and supporting our local partners despite, or even because of, the difficult circumstances.

However, because of travel restrictions to and on the Azores, many expeditioners have deferred to the Azores expedition 2021, which will run in April also.

Other expeditions

The next expeditions are Costa Rica and Armenia, both scheduled for May. With the situation in flux as it is at the moment, it is far too early to tell whether these can run, as it is for expeditions beyond June. Please refer to this blog for updates closer to the time.

Conservationists set the record straight on COVID-19’s wildlife links

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been characterized by the World Health Organization as a pandemic. As the virus spreads, so too does misinformation about its origins.

Rumors that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab or that we know with full certainty which animal host passed the disease to humans are unfounded.

Given the clear risks to animals as well as to human health, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Global Wildlife Conservation are calling for a permanent ban on wildlife trafficking and live animal markets.

> full article on Mongabay.com

Here is some hopeful news amongst the pandemic

China, where the outbreak originated, said the peak had passed as it reported just eight new cases in Hubei province on Thursday. More businesses reopened as authorities cautiously eased containment measures.

Beijing’s senior medical officer, Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist renowned for helping to combat the Sars outbreak in 2003, told a news conference that the pandemic could be over within a matter of months if countries mobilised properly to fight it and were prepared to take firm measures.

Zhong said that “my advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale”, and further, “if all countries get mobilised, it could be over by June … But if some countries do not treat the infectiousness and harmfulness seriously, and [do not] intervene strongly, it will last longer.”

Let us all work together to prove him right!

Coronavirus now a pandemic, but signs of recovery in China and South Korea

With the WHO declaring the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and countries increasingly going into lockdown and closing borders on the one hand, but also signs that the rate of new infections and deaths is continuing to fall in China and South Korea  and of China beginning to return to a new normal, the situation remains fluid.

We continue to monitor the situation daily, but our intention remains to run all expeditions, because conservation efforts must continue and because local partners rely on our support in collecting data and running projects. This includes the next three forthcoming expeditions to the Azores in April, and to Costa Rica and Armenia in May.

For some expeditions this may mean running them with a skeleton local staff and with citizen scientists who are willing and able to attend.

We will continue to update everyone via this blog. Because the situation is so fluid at the moment, we will make final decisions and announcements a few days prior to the start of an expedition only, but will of course continue to supply regular updates via this blog.

Next expedition: Azores

There are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus on the Azores so far and the archipelago remains open for flights, with things continuing as normal. Contingency plans have been announced and one report even goes as far as saying that the Azores is one of the safest destinations to go on holiday.

Our plan at the moment is to run the expedition as planned, but please note the following:

  • If you are planning to use hand sanitiser or a face mask, please bring your own
  • If you are showing any symptoms, do not come on the expedition
  • If you have been to a risk area within the last month, do not come on the expedition
  • If you belong to a group at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (the illness caused by coronavirus), then you may want to consider staying at home too
  • Make sure you have adequate health insurance cover (EU citizens should carry their EU health insurance card)
  • On the expedition, we will brief everyone on risks and behaviours during the expedition, and follow accepted guidelines

Obviously the situation is quite fluid at the moment. We will keep everyone informed.

 

Coronavirus: our policy and outlook

Much has been written about the new coronavirus already, which we do not need to repeat here.

Needless to say that Biosphere Expeditions is taking the situation very seriously. We are constantly monitoring it and what it may mean for expeditions, our staff, partners and citizen scientists. At the moment all expeditions are scheduled to run as planned, including the next one to the Azores starting in April. But please keep referring to this blog for updates.

However, we also believe there is a strong need for some sensible, fact-based context to combat the fake news and hysteria that appear to be prevalent in the media (social, online and traditional) at the moment.

To put the outbreak into perspective, and without belittling the impact it is having, please consider the data below and how much coverage the diseases below, which are not related to the coronavirus, are getting in the media in comparison to the coverage the coronavirus is getting at the moment.

Coronavirus data at the time of writing (from Johns Hopkins CSSE website)

Coronavirus outbreak at the time of writing (4 March 2020)
94,250 persons infected
51,026 persons recovered
3,214 deaths

Measles outbreak 2015 (WHO data)
20 million persons infected
73,400 deaths

Influenza season 2018/19 (CDC data)
900,000 hospitalisations (USA only)
80,000 deaths (USA only)

HIV (UNAIDS data 2019)
1.7 million persons newly infected in 2018
38 million persons infected worldwide
770,000 deaths in total worldwide

Tubercolosis (WHO data)
1.5 million deaths in 2018

Malaria (WHO data)
300 – 700 million new infections per year (estimate)
1 – 2 million deaths per year (estimate)

Also, fatality as a result of Covid-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) seems to be strongly skewed towards older people with pre-existing ailments, especially those of the respiratory system.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has useful advice on protective measures against the coronavirus. There are also useful worldwide trackers of cases and recoveries by  Johns Hopkins CSSE and Worldometer.

And finally, yes, Covid-19 is serious, but context is key and the world is well placed to deal with the  situation.

Having said all this, we will continue to monitor the situation and keep everyone updated via this blog.

Regards

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

Kenya: Filling the gaps

A month of data collection at Enonkishu Conservancy has ended. Good-bye team 2 and good-bye Enonkishu, rangers and staff for 2020!

We have used the last few days to fill gaps in our surveys. We completed another two sets of waterhole observations by performing two evening shifts from 18:00 – 22:00, despite heavy rain on Wednesday and a challenging drive back to camp. We performed a few more vehicle transects in order to get more comparativ wildlife detection data. A new end-to-end transect route compensating for the former T3 has finally been tracked on GPS and will be used for the ranger’s monthly surveys until the forest area in block 8 will be drivable again.

Whilst we were doing all this, some of us had some very exciting wildlife encounters. The mammal mapping walking group accidentally ran into an elephant in dense shrub and made a quick escape into the bushes. The Kileleoni team encountered another leopard right beside the road. It was gone in a flash when the vehicle approached. Both female lions with their four subadult cubs were spotted again in block 8. The vehicle almost drove over one of them invisibly resting in high grass. Jet, all on his own in the back of the vehicle, took a quick-witted picture before he getting in the cab for safety. A hyaena trudged along the waterhole edge, came right in front of the hide where the animal stopped suddenly, lifted its head, sniffed and ran!

Alan’s results presentation and the Big Tusker Award Ceremony were once again a highlight on our last evening. An overview map created out of 2,000 recordings including wildlife, livestock and vegetation logs illustrates impressively what 24 citizen scientists can achieve in partnership with local rangers over a month of intensive data collection. Much more information will be derived from the recordings for the expedition report, so please stay tuned.

For me it’s also time now to say good-bye to Enonkishu and Kenya. Before I go I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this expedition a success. First of all a big thank you goes to our citizen scientists for supporting the project in many ways – for your enthusiasm,, determination, studiousness and good company. Thanks to Rebekah for managing things on the ground and the Enonkishu rangers for guiding us on and off the tracks through rough terrain and keeping us safe. Thank you Alan for inspiring us with your dedication to science, nature, birds and all the other living things out there. And last but not least we all thank the MTC staff for making us feel welcome no matter what we threw at you in the name of science.

Safe travels back home, everyone, or enjoy your onward travels. I look forward to meeting you again one day.

Best wishes,

Malika

Tien Shan: Round-up, pictures and videos 2019

After six years of citizen science research in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, Biosphere Expeditions has definitively proved the presence of the snow leopard in a location previously thought to be devoid of the top level predator. Two night time camera-trap images taken in 2018 were a good indication, but in 2019 a series of camera trap images were taken of the elusive cat that clearly show the coat pattern, thus making it possible to even identify the individual and compare it to data recorded by other organisations to find out where else this cat has been.

“When I was going through the camera trap photos in our field office one evening, I almost fell out of my chair when these amazing shots of the snow leopard came up. I ran out and called to everyone to come and take a look. It was such an excellent moment for our research team,” says Amadeus DeKastle, expedition leader for Biosphere Expeditions.

“These excellent photographs of the snow leopard make all the effort we’ve put in to our research worth every second,” says Dr. Volodymyr Tytar, the expedition scientis. Dr. Tytar has been working in snow leopard research for more than 15 years, but 2019 was a special year. “When we first arrived here in Kyrgyzstan to begin our work in 2014, we kept being told that we wouldn’t find anything in this region. In fact, over the past six years we have recorded quite a number of animals that nobody expected, including the snow leopard.” In addition to the snow leopard, 2019 saw the addition of definitive Manul tracks at high elevation, the first direct sighting of two argali sheep in the region for four years, the first ever record of a Turkestan red pika in the valley, and records of 73 different bird species.

Biosphere Expeditions’ project in the Tien Shan stems from the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program, where, in 2013, representatives from all 12 Asian countries where the snow leopard roams made a historic pledge in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek to protect and conserve snow leopards and the high mountain habitats they call their home. Biosphere
Expeditions was part of this highly significant occasion and continues to run an annual snow leopard conservation expedition to Kyrgyzstan, which gives ordinary people the chance to come and play an active and hands-on part in the conservation of this iconic species.

The snow leopard, like many species, is threatened by poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss. It is estimated that fewer than 7,500 snow leopards remain in the wild. One goal formulated in Bishkek is the 20/20 pledge – to protect 20 snow leopard landscapes that have over 100 breeding adults by 2020, and to promote sustainable development in areas where the species lives. “This is as big as it gets in terms of top-level conservation news”, says Dr. Tytar, “and it is a privilege to be part of the challenge, together with my colleagues in field science and many others, to preserve this iconic cat. But what we do goes far beyond a single cat species, beautiful as it is in its own right, because successful species conservation is all about creating positive impact well beyond the target species, namely for those people that share their daily lives and landscapes with the snow leopard. As specified in the Conservation Strategy for Snow Leopard in Russia, 2012-2022, much can be achieved in the socio-economic context of snow leopard conservation by
‘…developing collaborations with such internationally known organisations as Biosphere Expeditions…’ (p.81). And this is exactly what we have set out do and are achieving with our  research expedition”, Dr. Tytar adds “This latest success just goes to show how important our work is here and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved over the years”, Dr. Tytar concludes.

Below are some video and pictures impressions of the 2019 expedition:

 

 

Kenya: Learning from each other

This Sunday’s school visit programme created by team 2 in a four-hour session on Saturday afternoon included a lot of interaction and working in small groups. After a tour around Emarti Secondary School we took the students on a game drive and involved them in data collection using compass, rangefinder and smartphone. We were lucky enough to see the biggest herd of elephants spotted at Enonkishu this year.  We also saw the cheetah family feeding on a freshly killed impala. The groups also picked up (mainly plastic) rubbish along the main roads.

Back at the MTC, we continued by chatting around the lunch table in groups of eight (four expeditioners and four students each). It was then for our citizen scientists to deliver a short presentation about their home countries and the animals and landscapes that are protected there and at Enonkishu Conservancy. We learnt that it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to dissolve, that an elephant can suck up to 16 litres of water in its trunk in one go and that the cheetah is the fastest land animal. Musa talked about grassland management as the basis for both wildlife and cattle that are happily sharing space in Enonkishu. We finished with a brainstorming about possible careers and job opportunities in conservation.

Thanks to everyone for making it an unforgettable day.

 

Kenya: Beyond the Big Five

The team is doing a fantastic job with spotting elusive and rare species of Enonkishu Conservancy. We have gone far beyond the Big Five – buffalo, elephant, hippo, leopard, lion – encountering rhino on the plane in block 13 (they walked in from the sancturary in Ol Chorro conservancy) and mapping colobus monkeys during the hikes around Kileleoni hill. A leopard encounter during Thursday afternoon’s survey in block 8 resulted in hundreds of great pictures and videos. To the bird list we have added sightings of Southern great hornbill, blue quail and saddle-billed stork. Quite a few obervations of turtoise, plants, insects and flowers have been added to the Enonkishu project on iNaturalist. We came across lion quite frequently and a big elephant herd of  25+ individuals came into Enonkishu a couple of days ago. On the night drives we have recorded hyaena, African spring hare and banded mangoose, as well as a greater bushbaby at MTC. Enjoy the pictures!