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

Alfredo and I reached base yesterday. The speed boat brought us to the Tahuayo Lodge in 2.5 hours, where we switched to a smaller boat. After the record floods of some months ago, the rivers are now very low, so it took us another 1.5 hours (!) to reach our final destination: the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo River Research Centre. So out of the window goes our timetable so far (nothing is a constant as the change of plan on expedition).

Over the next couple of days we’ll be setting up base as well as our survey walks and canoe trips. We’re looking forward to welcoming trailblazing group 1 in a few days. Please come prepared for the unexpected and with the appropriate guinea pig attitude 😉

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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)

Sorry again for the silence for such as long time. As you all know by now communications are difficult and when we do get back to a decent internet connection in Novosibirsk, we have so much to do for the turn-around, that it’s difficult to find the time to post the diary. But enough excuses, here’s what’s been happening since my last update:

9 August

I stayed at camp today to organise packing up the cars and the campsite, so I have split the group and sent a valley group to complete interviews, a second group ascended the valley to collect a camera trap. Local people are franticly gathering hay for their livestock before the winter sets in.

10 August

It was an early start today as we drove to Kamlak, the halfway point on the long journey back to Novosibirsk. Today has the best scenery, which takes the weight off the drive and it all ends with a famous Russian banya (sauna). The masochistic (ridge group) among us choose to lift the temperature well over 100 degrees Celsius before beating each other with birch leaves. The process is completed by a dip in an icy Siberian river then all is repeated ad infinitum. This evening we have been listening to Jenny’s presentation on the data we have recorded over the past two weeks (see http://www.slideshare.net/BiosphereExpeditions/research-results-group-4-altai-2012). It’s all very impressive! Well done Jenny and the team.

11 August

The long last stint in the car before it all ends for slot 4! We have had a great time (in all weathers). Have a safe trip back home!  But for the expedition leader and scientist it starts again with the fifth and last slot.

Thank you everybody on slot 4 and welcome slot 5!

12 August

It’s the busiest day for Jenny, Oleg and I. But this time we have another member of staff to help: Kate, whom you should all know from chasing you for paperwork and sending you dossiers, instructions, etc. Together we have the usual multitude of problems to solve and tasks to complete: food shopping, welcoming the team, organising permits and running a familiarisation course with the cars. Now some dinner, sleep then tomorrow we go!

13 August

Today we drove to Kamlak. It sounds so simple, but never is! The problem this time was missing bags. It’s going to be cold at base camp, so everybody must have warm clothing. No clothes mean a very uncomfortable expedition!

As luck would have it the Russian airport authorities managed to locate one bag, which turned up this morning. Another may possibly turn up this evening? I took the decision to split groups. Jenny and I went ahead (behind schedule) to Kamlak and the famous banya (sauna). Oleg and Lucy (missing bags) will drive to Kamlak very early tomorrow morning.

14 August

For Jenny and I it was an early 70 km drive from Kamlak back along the road to Gorno Altaisk. Here we met by Oleg and Lucy (the early morning drivers) and received permits for the Altai region. Jenny, Lucy and I then attended a meeting with Mikhail who works with WWF Russia for the whole Altai region to discuss data collected from previous slots and to plan ahead for slot 5 and future collaboration. When the permits where collected from the office, we set off to pick up the team from Kamlak (only six hours behind schedule) and gave Oleg a well-needed rest from driving. Towards the end of the afternoon huge storms raged across the Altai Mountains further slowing us down due to landslides and rocks littering the road. We ended up at our dinner stop at 21:0), hungry but still in high spirits. Mercifully the 20 km off-road drive to camp was relatively dry, so we arrived at 23:30. Training day tomorrow!

15 August

Training day. As always, the first part of all things Biosphere Expeditions is the training sessions. This allows the expedition leader and scientist to teach team members the skills and practices vital to complete the expedition objectives. On the last slot the training differs slightly as the job this time is to retrieve and check all the camera traps. We still had to learn how to use a GPS and a compass. Anna (a guest scientist on this slot from the Siberian Environmental Center researching Pallas cat gave a short talk on her research and how useful we can be for her research).

Heavy rain this afternoon made the off-road driving training interesting! We also got a visit from Kampi our friendly neighbour who has moved down the valley closer to our camp due to the encroaching winter.

Today also allows the team to get to know each other and relax. We have made it!

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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)

I am writing from Iquitos where I arrived the day before yesterday in the late afternoon alongside two bags and two big boxes filled with expedition equipment. I felt pretty spaced out when I finally stepped off the final plane into Amazonia, having travelled from Africa for 38 hours, dipping into various countries and timezones. After the first night my watch was finally set to local expedition time ;).

Yesterday morning I met up with our local scientist Alfredo who did a great job guiding me through noisy streets and crowded shops for some hardcore pre-expedition shopping. It was around noon when we ticked the last bits and pieces off the shopping list; as far as gear is concerned, we are now ready to leave for the jungle and when you ready this we’ll probably be in a boat to the remote research centre about 2 1/2 boat hours up the Amazon and then many smaller rivers.

I now also have a Peruvian mobile number: +51 961 821125 (for emergencies only) but please note that there is no mobile phone coverage at base and you can only reach me by e-mail from tomorrow on.

Finally, I’ve uploaded some pictures to give you an impression of Iquitos: a view of the Amazon (early morning after a heavy downpour), famous motortaxis and street life outside the A&E hotel.

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Safe travels group 1 and I’ll see you at our research base on Sunday.

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

Hello I am Kathy, your expedition leader for group 2. My time in Namibia here started with a highlight the day before yesterday. When Kristina and I took outgoing expedition leader Malika to the airport, we saw a leopard crossing the road! Sightings of truly wild leopards in the field are very rare, so to spot one crossing the busy road to the airport was like hitting the jackpot.

We took the same road again with group 2 after assembly (everyone has arrived safely). There were more leopards to be seen, but the giraffes were there to greet us when we arrived at our study site. We were then straight into the training sessions finishing up with more questions (and a beer) around the fire before supper.

Giraffe
Giraffe

It’s still cold but the showers are now hot – fingers crossed it will stay that way.

Today it’s more training and into the field.

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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).

I am now on my way from Namibia to Peru.

A couple of admin things: I will not be at the A&E office assembly point for group 1 as I will be at the research station preparing things for you. Someone from the A&E office will be there to meet you and put you on an A&E boat to the research station where Alfredo and I will be waiting for you.

As per the expedition dossier “The expedition team will leave Iquitos shortly after assembly and from then on it will be extremely difficult to catch up with the team or find base camp. If for any reason you miss the assembly, contact the A&E office, Iquitos, Peru at +51-65-242792 and email amazonia.expeditions@verizon.net.” A&E will then help you catch up with the expedition, but hopefully this will not be necessary as you will all be there on time at 08:00 on 19 August (group 1).

The assembly TIME (not date, which is still 26 August) for group 2 has changed to 09:00, so you get to lie in for another hour and I will be there to collect you at the A&E office assembly point.

Safe travels everyone.

Malika

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

Group 1 of this year’s Namibia expedition ended on a high with the capture of a massive hyaena on Wednesday and sedation and handling on Thursday, the day before group 1 had to leave.

Collared hyaena
Collared hyaena

At base we’ve gone back to the basics over the last few days. First no water due to a broken waterline and then no electricity due to a generator breakdown. Most of us just skipped showering and instead enjoyed standing around the fireplace in the evening, the only source of light and heat in camp. The sky was amazingly clear and the stars were shininig brightly – there’s no better way to enjoy a night in the African bush?

On Wednesday we also conducted a vehicle game count. The team was ready to roll at 06:00 in about  six layers of clothing, hats and gloves, but the Land Rovers did not want to start up because it was too cold. We finally got them up and running at 07:30, lazy buggers!

Thank you group 1 for all your hard work and roll in group 2!

Trailblazing group 1
Trailblazing group 1

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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)

Sorry for the longs silence. We’re in the back of beyond and communication is difficult. And being away from the internet and the reachable-24/7 is a blessing too! Anyway, here’s what has happend since my last update.

There was heavy rain last Saturday (4 August) morning. It is frustrating for everyone who wants to get up into the mountains. The snow level dropped again overnight and is making its way inevitably towards our camp. Slot 5, I will say it again, COLD/WET WEATHER GEAR IS ESSENTIAL, we are in Siberia after all! We took a journey away from camp today to visit a local museum. It was small but packed with interesting things; the Altaian owner was very knowledgeable. The ground squirrels are out despite the rain, ripping up one of my best base layers that had fallen off the washing line. The rain continued into the afternoon and everybody was keeping warm in the mess tent. The rain eased in the evening and we were all treated to a wonderful sunset with a double rainbow over the camp.

The sun came out on Sunday (5 August)! The air is still very chilly, but it gave us a change to get out into the hills. We split out into two groups; group 1 was with me surveying the valley floor, group 2 made it up onto the high ridges with Jenny and Oleg just north of basecamp. My group traversed a previously unknown valley to Biosphere. The river was up, so we all got wet feet (and some a bit more than feet), navigating through the trees and rocks. We found evidence of prey animals living in the valley including deer scat in the woods. The ridge group had some more tricky terrain through the snow. Camera traps 5 and 6 revealed ibex moving up in the high ridges. The day ended with hot showers and everybody in high spirits!

We had big plans for Monday (6 August). The whole group moved away from camp to access some of the valleys to the East. This involves setting up an advanced camp in some of the most breathtaking scenery I have evers seen. After a late 09:00 breakfast, we set off stopping a few times for photo opportunities (it’s not all work!). We arrived just before lunch and had the afternoon to organise camp. A few of the team scouted out the lakes and hills nearby. Campfire and early bed, it’s an early start tomorrow.

On Tuesday (7 August) everyone was and ready to go by 08:45. More (weak) sun means the snow is melting on the lower slopes of the mountains. We split into three groups, the lake group, the valley group and the ridge group. The lake group set off to survey the lower lakes in the valley to the West of camp. This group contained our Russian biology student and scholarship winner Lena and retired biologist Cornelia. So they were well qualified to look for tracks and signs on the lake shore and observe the valley sides for prey animals. The second group contained Jenny and I and our objective was to complete a stiff walk to the end of a nearby valley to observe prey animals and look for snow leopard signs in the scree. The ridge group had the enormous task of keeping up with our resident mountain goat/guide Oleg to collect camera trap data and set cameras up in snow leopard country. Oleg’s group spent a massive 11 hours climbing the ridge to an altitude of 3400 m next to the glacier to fulfill their objective! When we all eventually retuned to camp, everyone had stories of seeing prey animals. Each group spotted herds of prey and incredibly up to a 50 strong herd of argali sheep. Argali are a rare and endangered species and it was thought that only around 20-30 survived on this mountain range! We will relay this information onto WWF and other relevant bodies (in fact they are reading this right now along with you). The ridge group reported finding snow leopard scrape with scat, a great find. They also set up camera traps 9 and 10 along the highest ridge. Besides 22 ibex, two more herds of 9 argali were spotted by the valley and lake groups. So we are very happy to announce that we observed at least 90 prey animals in only one (long) day of surveying. Well done everyone!

After such a long day yesterday, I allowed everybody a later breakfast this Wednesday (8 August) morning. We had packed up camp and were ready to go at 10:30. An easier day and a drive back to camp allowed us to stop at some local yurts and interview local people about the surrounding area, its wildlife and to try and gauge attitudes toward the snow leopard. We will continue with interviews in a different area tomorrow.

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

Hello from the bush hospital with news of our first leopard capture of the expedition!

A gastro-intestrinal virus is going round and seven of us have gone down. All the rehydration sachets have gone, as have the bananas. There weren’t many people around the dinner table last night. To make things even more uncomfortable, a cold front has moved in, so group 2, don’t forget to bring at least one layer of warm clothing.

These minor inconveniences aside, we’ve had an interesting time over the last three days. Saturday’s box trap team Liz, Stacey, Jay and I found trap BT3 closed. At first it did not look like there was anything inside, but when we approached on foot, we could tell immediately from the noise that there must be a leopard inside. What a great start to the expedition! Pictures from the camera trap next to the trap also showed us that this was a popular place attracting a rhino, a hare and “our” curious leopard who was caught candid-camera-like walking right in on Friday night and then looking somewhat sheepish inside about twelve minutes later.

We called a vet for the sedation, the rest of the team and then set up our field lab. The first (female) leopard of this expedition was named L038, is about 18-20 months old and weighs 25 kg. Her neck circumference is 35 cm; too small to wear a collar (adult females measure about 40 cm). Once we had taken all the samples and given her the wake-up shot, we left her alone for about three hours before coming back to release her. Guess what happened when we opened the gate: nothing! We sat around for 90 minutes waiting for her to come out, everyone with their cameras ready to get THE release shot. Still nothing. And you can’t blame her for being put off by four Land Rovers full of people facing her. So we left her in peace and found the trap empty when checking two hours later. So long L038, we’ll be on your heels from now on, and what a great start for group 1!

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

Four box traps are in place. Everyone worked hard to build leopard-proof kraals around the trap entries by cutting and arranging thorny Acacia branches. The ground was then flattened and the bait hung up in a tree. Leopard-woman Kristina co-ordinated the workers from above (see picture). For the leopard the only way to get to the ‘lekker’ meat is to walk into the trap (‘lekker’ means tasty, good, nice – my favourite Afrikaans word!).

Leopard woman Kristina
Leopard woman Kristina

Kirsty, Philipp & Giles were the first to check the traps this morning. They reported fresh leopard tracks around one of them – very good news! If the leopard doesn’t eat today, he might be hungry enough to walk into the trap later..

Cate, Sanya & Brian also reported fresh leopard tracks on one out of seven walking routes they were on yesterday. Led by Jesaja, one of two local trackers here to share their knowledge with us, they bravely walked 9 km and finished the survey only when it was dark.

Leopard calls were heard at base early in the morning today – they are all around, we only have to catch the buggers if we can ;).

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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 a sunny morning again yesterday, so we set out on the first day in the mountains. Breakfast was early, so we could make good time up a nearby valley. As we ascended we were on the lookout for prey species – this is always hard with such a large group, as prey will flee at the smallest of noises. However, it was important we stick together on the first day.

The main objective of the day was to recover camera trap data from the high ridges and survey the upper valley moraine for scat and scrape evidence. When we reached the moraine we were in luck, numerous scrape marks were found as well as scat. Data and samples were recorded, more evidence for previously unknown presence of snow leopard in this area. Part of the group stayed in the valley to continue surveying and those feeling strong tackled the ridge. It took an hour of climbing up the scree slope to reach the ridge and set our first camera trap. We walked along a short way and found the previously set camera. No luck with leopard, but to our surprise we captured another Pallas cat, a very rare species of small cat not usually known to be up this high. A further walk along the ridge presented us with another scrape and a chance to set another camera trap.

After a very successful day we managed to return to camp at around 18:30 just in time for dinner. Nina cooked up a vegetable stew with rice for our return as well as organised a few celebrations for those with birthdays this week!

This morning it started to rain steadily at around 02:00 and continued until 09:00. A quick look up the mountain revealed that the snowline has dropped around 300 meters. Although the rain stopped, there was low cloud and my decision was that conditions on the ridges were too treacherous. This gave Jenny time to work with some of the group to sift through yesterday’s data. The afternoon brightened up, so some of the group went for a trek with Oleg to look at some ancient rock art nearby.

The summer is short here in the Altai and predictions are that it is going to get colder in the coming weeks, so warm weather gear is essential (note this group 5)!

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