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

We left Novosibirsk on Monday and for the first time managed to get through the permit palaver in Gorno Altaisk as per plan A, so no need for B, C and D, or so we thought until first one of the Land Rovers and then one of the team members started playing up. So some minor repairs and major altercations later, we finally arrived at base, still late as usual and minus one person. My thanks and gratitude to the remaining team who put up with a lot and pulled together like a real expedition team.

Then my tooth started playing up too, but luckily we have Friedy, a retired dentist, and Dani, a pharmacist with a bag full of pills to prove it, on the team. I was expertly taken care of (whilst Jenny did all the training sessions, thank you) and Gordon kept making chipmunk impressions behind my back 😉

News was then brought on Thursday by our local friend Kampi of snow leopards above his winter station not far away. Under Jenny’s guidance we jumped into the Land Rovers to have a look and make a plan K. The landscape has changed a lot because of the heavy rains, but the Land Rovers pulled through all the streams, which had turned into rivers.

Land Rover in action
Land Rover in action

Our new cook Olija is also delivering, conjuring up stews, borschts (sp?), and all sorts of tasty servings.

On Friday we split the team in two – one to survey the plan K snow leopard ridge, the second to retrieve a camera trap, yielding pictures of shaggy ibexes still shedding their winter coat. Jenny and her team hit the jackpot and found snow leopard scrapes on the ridge, then placed camera traps to hopefully catch their makers.

I wish the Altaian ground squirrels would all also meet their makers! Cute and ubiquitous as they are, they are also chewing through everything. Mark’s rucksack, Gordon’s towel, Jenny’s trousers, my favourite T-shirt; perhaps they’ll have indigestion soon and leave us alone! Unlikely.

Altai ground squirrel
Altai ground squirrel

Today we took it a little “easier” and retrieved another camera trap. Samara, Mark, Oleg, Jenny and I climbed to another ridge. The views were breathtaking, as were the camera trap pictures. It started slow with red-billed choughs, a family of Altai snowcocks and then…Pallas cat! This very rarest of cats is meant to be a steppe dweller, so to catch it on candid camera at 3000 m is as remarkable as getting a picture of it in the first place. Well done everyone! Just rewards for keeping your nerves through the horrible start.

P.S. I am sorry there are no pictures of the camera traps, but I am struggling to get them sent through from our remote location.

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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).

Hello my name is Malika and I will be your expedition leader for our Peru 2012 expedition, in our new location near Iquitos just off the mighty Amazon river.

I am early with this diary entry, because I am about to leave for Namibia where I will lead the first group of our big cat & elephant expedition. I will pass the baton in Namibia on 11 August and then fly via Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Lima to Iquitos to meet our scientist Alfredo there and prepare the expedition. So this is just a first entry to say that I am off and you will hear from me again when I have hit the ground in Peru, and perhaps before.

Click on https://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/category/expedition-blogs/namibia-2012/ for a short video of me saying hello, details of what I am up to in Namibia and a picture of the packing crisis I am currently having 😉 As it says on that blog: don’t pack the way I do!

See you in Iquitos

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

 

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

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

I’m packing up for Namibia & Peru.

Best practice is this. Step 1 (accumulation) – throw it all in one place, step 2 (selection) – what items do I really have to take??, step 3 (packing) – make it fit in the bag somehow. I have completed steps 1 & 2 (see picture) and am confident I will master step 3 before tomorrow evening.

Packing for two (continents and expeditions)
Packing for two (continents and expeditions)

Note for rest of the team: please do not try and pack as much as I do! The picture scenario is “packing for a seven-week trip and preparing for two expeditions on two different continents”.

On Monday morning I’ll meet up with our scientist Kristina at Windhoek airport from where we will go straight into town for extreme pre-expedition shopping and picking up one of the Land Rovers that has been serviced and equipped with new tyres. I’ll write again once I have made it to base.

Good luck with your very own packing

Malika

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

Always good to watch to remind ourselves what we are about and what we have achieved. Thank you everyone who has been part of Biosphere Expeditions.

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

How can I sum up the last group in a few words and apologise for not having been in touch much. Well, the weather has been perfectly horrid with lots of rain, interspersed by some sunny spells and our BGAN satellite phone is playing up so we are really in the middle of (communication) nowhere.

Anyway, the third group has arrived and we are on our way back to the Altai. Highlights of the second group include:

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Our local friends treating us to a party. We had no idea where all the food came from, but within a minute, Irina’s table was heaving under a load of home-made bread, luscious cream, several types of cheese, pickled apples – it all tasted so delicious.

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A very playful family of long-eared or Altai voles. We found them living with pikas and getting along famously.

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After the usual and seemingly endless permit hassles, we finally crossed into the border exclusion zone and felt very special indeed. The valley we set up the camp in was breathtaking. Steppe on one side and spectacular series glaciers on the other. This was argali, ibex and snow leopard country. Remote, protected  (by default by boarder guards) and undisturbed.

We were itching to hit the slopes and soon we found ourselves walking on a narrow ledge above the camp, following a well-worn argali track. And then I spotted my first argali. A small herd of seven. We were thrilled. Not having seen them before, I didn’t know how they would react, but they seemed very timid and came within just 200 metres of us. We tracked them all the way down to the river, we even crawled on our bellies to get a closer look, when they suddenly vanished.

The next morning Jenny and Oleg took Carol, Andy, Dermott and Janine to the very top of the ridge overlooking our camp and my group and I started walking the road, which was snaking up into the valley. Oleg mentioned something about an abandoned mine, but we didn’t really see much until we reached a small plateau, well above 3000 m. It was quite a shock to see the hand of humans at work. Rusty machinery, rotting wood, ghastly buildings and in the middle of it, an old mining shaft. We steered well clear of it all and kept walking. Argali were abundant above the ridges and we found some sort of  “argali hotel”, as Susan put it. Shallow depressions, dug into the scree by hundreds of animals, looking for a place to rest. The view over the saddle was breathtaking. We knew we were in the snow leopard country. As we reached an altitude of well above 3300 m, all credit goes to Louisa who scrambled to her record altitude without even losing a breath.

Jenny’s group had a hard time walking up the steep hill, but they were extremely lucky to find both scrapes and scat of what surely must have been a snow leopard. This was a great news and confirmation we are in the right area. With two camera traps set up high on the ridges, we just have to wait and see. What a great day!

Our Chikacheva trip, if only two days long, proved to be great success. We found scat, scrapes and set up three camera traps, high above the ridges. I am sure everyone would have liked to stay a bit longer, but the end of this group was beckoning.

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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)

Hello my name is Malika and I will be the first of three expedition leaders for this expedition. I will lead group 1 and then fly off to Peru to our expedition there. Kathy, our Strategy Director, will lead group 2 and then go back to the UK, and finally Jenny, who is currently chasing snow leopards in the Altai, will take over from Kathy to lead the rest of the expedition.

As you can see, this is will be a total girl power expedition. There’s a short welcome video featuring yours truly (and more pictures of base camp taking shape) on WordPress now.

Our scientist Kristina is a German TV star on http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1477312,

Kathy is one on

and Jenny you can “meet” at Frankfurt airport jetting off to the Altai

There will also be a few men around, such as our esteemed Jörg Melzheimer, but they obviously come much lower down the pecking order 😉

Anyway, the scene is set and I will fly off to Windhoek on Sunday to be met by Kristina and Jörg, and together we will be going through the final preparations for the expedition, including putting mattresses on the beds and stocking the bar, if you are lucky.

The official expedition leader mobile number in Namibia is +264-81-8339507 and this will be active as of next Monday. Remember, though, that this is (a) for emergency purposes only, for example missing assembly and (b) that mobile phones do not work at base and around much of the study site, so sending a text is best.

I’ll write again from Namibia with a weather and preparations update. I hope yours are going well and I look forward to meeting group 1 at Casa Piccolo in due course.

Best wishes

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader group 1

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

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

There’s been a sunny day down in the Altai (for a change) and our expedition is now moving towards Chicacheva ridge for their surveys and camera-trapping.

Sunny day in the Altai
Sunny day in the Altai

Whilst they are out there collecting more data, you may be interested in the latest publication, just out, called “Snow Leopard Conservation in Russia” (available from www.wwf.ru/resources/publ/book/eng/599). Our work over the years is mentioned several times (pages 15, 18) and also that there is “a great deal of opportunity to develop collaborations with such internationally known organizations as Biosphere Expeditions that involve tourists and volunteers in monitoring rare species, including the snow leopard.” (page 81).

Things are changing in the Altai with the establishment of community-based initiatives such as a snow leopard museum in Kosh-Agach or the “Kosh-Agach District Community Ecological Inspection Team for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage”. We are now working closely with other organisations such as the WWF (on co-ordinating our research efforts and creating local incentives), the Altai Project and the Foundation for Sustainable Altai (on involving local people) or academic instutions in Novosibirsk and Gorno Altaisk (on our expedition placement / scholarship programme for local students).

None of this would be possible without the help and finance that is provided by you, our expedition participants, so thank you very much for this. For those of you who have been on the expedition, we hope this makes it all worthwhile; for those of you yet to make the trip to the Altai with us, we hope it will increase your enthusiasm and resolve to put up with the foul weather we are having at the moment, the bureaucracy and whatever else the Altaian home of the snow leopard may be throwing at us in the weeks to come.

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 conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

We thought you might all like to see some results from our camera traps in Slovakia since the expedition, including our elusive lynx…

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia

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 Nina’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 😉

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.

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 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