Sweden : Not lost

Update from our Sweden bear volunteer project

The first two days of the expedition are dominated by intense training, and this team has hit the ground running. Much of the training is in the practical methods used to collect data at each winter den: from the den measurements through to a methodological approach to defining the habitat around the den, as well as much information to record about bear scats. Research equipment that the team are trained to use range from the specialist densitometer, which measures the extent of tree canopy above a den, to the humble compass (you need to put Fred in the Shed).

We also train the expedition team in how not to get lost. The bear dens and day beds that they are tasked with finding are deep in the woods, often a long way from the road. As adventurer-scientists, the team have to fight their way through some pretty challenging and pathless territory – typically rocky, boggy and/or hard going (usually all three), trying to locate a waypoint on a GPS device, and ideally not losing anyone en route. Finding the way back to the car afterwards can be a difficult task when you look up after an hour of focussed survey work and being confronted with a view of indistinguishable forest in all directions. Fortunately the team are trained in various navigational techniques, complemented by cool heads and common sense, so have successfully failed to get lost so far.

We have already surveyed two winter dens – a beautiful den under a massive boulder and a very different ‘nest’ type den where a bear and her cubs spent winter covered by nothing more than a thick blanket of snow. We have also begun to collect our first bear scats, carefully labelled and stored ready for later analysis to reveal what the bear has been eating before and after hibernation.

The team have taken all this on with little rest and in good spirits. A special mention here to Torsten, who cycled over 1000 km from southern Sweden to join the expedition and immediately threw himself into expedition life without pause.

With the training part of the expedition almost over, the team is ready to devote the next week to exploring the tangled forests of mid-Sweden to record high quality data for the transnational Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project.

Continue reading “Sweden : Not lost”

Sweden : From base

Update from our Sweden bear volunteer project

Greetings from base camp. I am excited to be back! The Advanced Team have assembled: Louise and I arrived here last night and Andrea, the expedition scientist, joined us today. We have bought the food and supplies for the expedition: there is a lot of it, so I hope you will be hungry.

Base camp is looking glorious in the Swedish spring sunshine. The iconic Swedish red wooden cabins are almost glowing in the morning light, the birch and pine trees are bursting with green vitality and we saw a fox running past the sauna and across the stream when we were out exploring late last night.

The snow has gone, apart from a few patches in forest clearings, revealing the grass at base camp, along with some old moose scat. Our job for the next two days is to get base camp tidy and organised ready for the expedition, and to check and prepare all the research equipment.

Andrea has been a little tense: the tracked bears’ GPS collars often only transmit their entire winter’s data after they have left their winter den and walked into an area with phone signal. Due to the late arrival of spring here, Andrea has been left waiting for these data uploads. Thankfully, as of yesterday, she now has the data and she looks positively happy now!

See you on Saturday morning, for the start of another great citizen science / bear research expedition: there is a lot of work to do….

Continue reading “Sweden : From base”

Sweden : 2023 opener

Update from our Sweden bear volunteer project

We are getting excitingly close to the start of the 2023 Sweden Brown Bear expedition, and preparations are going well. I am Roland, your expedition leader, and this will be my second time leading this expedition. I am really looking forward to returning. This year, my partner Louise, a professional events caterer, will also be joining us as expedition cook. It will be interesting to see what that will mean under expedition conditions. We will be working alongside Dr Andrea Friebe, the local expedition scientist who manages a long-term research programme monitoring the brown bear population in this region.

Louise & Roland

Our daily research tasks will include finding and recording the dens that the bears have been using to hibernate in over winter, as well as their day beds, which we will visit sometimes shortly after they have left them.

Andrea sent an update from the field today saying that 10 cm of snow fell last night and that some of the tracked bears have not yet left their dens, so we may have some interesting challenges coming our way…

As always with Biosphere Expeditions, we will review and adapt our plans according to the conditions we find. The weather forecast for Dalarna province, at least for the first few days of the expedition, predicts warmer conditions – up to 27 C , with some sunny, some cloudy and some rainy days. The best advice is to pack clothing and footwear ready for any and all weather conditions!

The research methodologies we use on this expedition are relatively detailed and specific, especially when it comes to surveying the winter dens. But fear not, we will provide ample training in the methods and using the research equipment in the first two days. I will send another update once Louise and I get to our expedition base, on 24 May. In the meantime, feel free to start getting excited about this expedition – I certainly am!

Continue reading “Sweden : 2023 opener”

Sweden : 2022 expedition round-up

Update from our Sweden bear volunteer project

The 2022 Biosphere Expeditions citizen science expedition to Sweden to study brown bears together with Dr. Andrea Friebe of Björn & Vildmark and the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project has been a success for the second year running and overachieved on its aims.

In a nutshell, the expedition documented all 24 bear dens of the study site, collected over 100 bear scats, recorded 30 day beds, 8 carcasses and a multitude of other interesting events such as gnawed antlers, encounters with moose, fox, owls and other animals. Dr. Friebe now relies on this citizen science contributions each year to conduct significant parts of her work on brown bear ecology in a changing world of climate change and forestry. In her words “essentially, if the expedition was not here to do this work, it would probably not get done” and the expedition is “a showcase of how citizen science can supplement existing research projects run by professional scientists”.

All this is in evidence in the post-expedition scientific report (abstract below). The 2023 expedition has been lengthened to 10 days to be able to achieve even more and Biosphere Expeditions looks forward to returning to Sweden in May/June 2023.


Abstract of the 2022 expedition report

This is a report about the second year of collaboration between Biosphere Expeditions and Björn & Vildmark with the overall purpose of researching the behaviour of free ranging brown bears (Ursus arctos) in central Sweden for the Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project (SBBRP). This collaboration investigates, amongst other topics, how climate change as well as human activities affect the brown bear behaviour and population, and provides managers in Sweden with solid, science-based knowledge to manage brown bears.

From 28 May to 4 June 2022, six citizen scientists collected data on bear denning behaviour and feeding ecology by investigating the 2021/2022 hibernation season den sites of GPS-marked brown bears and by collecting fresh scats from day bed sites. All field work was performed in the northern boreal forest zone in Dalarna and Gävleborg counties, south-central Sweden, which is the southern study area of the SBBRP. After two days of field work training, citizen scientists were divided into three to four sub-teams each day. All study positions were provided by the expedition scientist and only data and samples from radio-marked bears with a VHF or GPS transmitter were collected.

Citizen scientists defined den types (anthill den, soil den, rock den, basket den or uprooted tree den), recorded bed material thickness, size and content, as well as all tracks and signs around the den sites to elucidate whether a female had given birth to cubs during hibernation. All first scats after hibernation and hair samples from the bed were collected, and the habitat type around the den and the visibility of the den site were described.

Twenty-six winter positions of 21 different bears were investigated. Two bears shifted their dens at least once during the hibernation season. In total, the expedition found 23 dens; two soil dens, eight anthill dens, one anthill/soil den, one stone/rock den, four dens under uprooted trees and seven basket dens. Unusually, one pregnant female that gave birth to three cubs during winter, and four females that hibernated together with dependent offspring spent the winter in basket dens. Normally basket dens are mainly used by large males.

Excavated bear dens had an average outer length of 2.0 m, an outer width of 2.2 m, and an outer height of 0.8 m. The entrance on average comprised 28% of the open area. The inner length of the den was on average 1.3 m and the inner width was 1.1 m. The inner height of the dens was on average 0.6 m. Bears that hibernated in covered dens used mainly mosses (47%), field layer shrubs (36%) and branches (14%) as nest material, which reflected the composition of the field layer and ground layer that was present at the den site. However, bears that hibernated in open dens such as basket dens, preferred branches (43%) followed by grass (26%); mosses (19%) and field shrubs (12%) as nest material. The expedition found two first post-hibernation bear scats at the den sites.

Ten bears selected their den sites in older forests, and eleven bears in younger forests, only two bears hibernated in very young forest. The habitat around the dens was dominated by spruce (Picea abies) 37%, scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) 35% and birch (Betula pendula, Betula pubescens) 27%.

As part of its intensive data collection activities, the expedition investigated about half of all winter den positions that the SBBRP recorded in 2021/2022 and collected 64 scats at cluster positions, which represents all scat samples that the SBBRP normally collects during a time period of 14 days. A detailed food item analysis will be performed in 2025 and the data will be published.

It appears that climate change is altering bear denning behaviour and may reduce food resources that bears need for fat production. Overharvesting (hunting) of bears and habitat destruction are the major reasons why brown bear populations have declined or have become fragmented in much of their range. In Scandinavia, human activity around den sites has been suggested as the main reason why bears abandon their dens. This can reduce the reproductive success of pregnant female brown bears and increases the chance of human/bear conflict. Understanding denning behaviour is critical for effective bear conservation. Further research is needed to determine whether good denning strategies help bears avoid being disturbed. Additionally, enclosed dens offer protection and insulation from inclement weather. A continued fragmentation of present bear ranges, inhibiting dispersal, together with an increasing bear population, might lead to bears denning closer to human activities than at present, thereby increasing human/bear conflict. The dens that were investigated by the expedition were visible from 22 m on average. Cover opportunities and terrain types not preferred by humans are thereby presumably important for bears that are denning relatively close to human activities, but further research needs to be done to validate this theory.

Through all of the above, the expedition made a very significant contribution to the SBBRP’s field work in a showcase of how citizen science can supplement existing research projects run by professional scientists.


Some photo impressions of the 2022 expedition:

Continue reading “Sweden : 2022 expedition round-up”

Tien Shan: Wolf scat, snow leopard photos and petroglyphs

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Nobody could accuse this snow leopard volunteer expedition of being dull, and the interesting times have continued with the third and final group for this year.

Group 3 started dramatically with a mountain storm erupting without warning within hours of the team arriving at base camp. 30 minutes of high winds destroyed one of our three yurts and many of our tents, necessitating two prompt actions – a hasty arrangement to hire a yurt from a local shepherd and a long drive back to Bishkek for expedition leader Roland to buy some more tents. Both missions were completed successfully. Then expedition leader Roland tested positive for Covid. Leading an expedition while self-isolating proved to be a novel experience, but group 3 was a strong and dependable team and the expedition continued largely as planned. Another expeditioner then also tested positive for Covid a day after Roland, but thanks to the implementation of our Covid protocol, the spread stopped there.

Despite these setbacks and some challenging weather in the first few days, the expedition team pulled out the stops and achieved some good scientific research over the two weeks. We visited most of the camera traps already located in the mountains, to replace SD cards and to retain, move or bring back each camera. We surveyed many 2×2 km cells – many of them covering new valleys we had not visited before. We saw ibex, high up on ridges. We discovered many instances of ibex footprints and scat and – excitingly – some snow leopard footprints too. We also found large carnivore scat on a few occasions.

It is not easy to directly tell whether such scats are from snow leopard, wolf or even lynx, but the location and neighbouring clues often help. Wolf predation of livestock is common here – much more than with snow leopard who favour ibex as their main prey and we came across a few horse and cow carcasses and accompanying wolf scat on at least one occasion. Even more excitingly, we found likely snow leopard scat a couple of times and we have a total of six potential snow leopard scats from the three groups, ready to send off for DNA analysis to confirm their identity.

Group 3 also had the task of checking the camera traps that were put up by the previous two groups. All the camera traps were placed in strategic locations, often on high ridges, where we have found good evidence of ibex at least. Some of these cameras have captured good photos of ibex and snowcock, amongst other snow leopard prey animals. And two images of cameras have given us images of snow leopards – just a few days old in each case. This revelation never fails to being much excitement and celebration at our debrief sessions each evening.

Snow leopard image

Alongside our surveys of snow leopards and their prey, we naturally look out for any other interesting wildlife and other finds. We are always accompanied by buzzards, eagles and vultures. And often we come across petroglyphs, which are common in this valley but no less intriguing because of it. These are rock carving line pictures, depicting local animals, made many thousands of years ago in some cases. Most of the petroglyphs show recognizable animals (but some are not at all obvious and invite imaginative interpretation). Simple line drawings of ibex are especially common and we have also seen carvings of Argali sheep, camels, dogs –and occasionally snow leopards.

Ibex petroglyph
Snow leopard petroglyph

In group 3 we have also continued our social research into attitudes to the opportunities of eco-tourism amongst the local shepherd families. This involves visiting our neighbours up and down the valley, in their yurts and tents, always being received with great hospitality and courtesy. With our multilingual Kyrgyz scientist Dr Taalai Mambetov acting as interpreter, our expeditioners interview the shepherds, loosely following a prepared series of questions, but largely enjoying a free-flowing conversation. The interviews gave us a good insight into the realities of shepherding life in the upper Suussamyr Valley – and a strong appetite to host adventurous tourists here in the future.

The 2022 Tien Shan snow leopard expedition has brought some memorable challenges but was ultimately very successful, with a total of 30 expeditioners achieving an impressive amount of citizen science over six weeks in Suussamyr Valley: We have surveyed seventy six 2×2 km cells, many more than once, collected six samples of likely snow leopard scat ready for DNA analysis, discovered three sets of photos of snow leopards on camera traps, found snow leopard footprints, seen herds of ibex on mountain ridges on several occasions and we have interviewed twelve local shepherd families. And alongside all this, we have immersed ourselves in the wild mountain environment, scrambled up rocky ridges, seen a lot of local wildlife, discovered ancient and intriguing rock art, watched crazy games of ulak (the national sport of Kyrgyzstan, with horse riders fighting over a goat carcass, in a mad chaos of hooves and mud) and made new friends.

As one expeditioner reflected – “A once in a lifetime experience! This was a great way to deep dive into a country, push yourself outside your comfort zone and save some wildlife. The science we do here may not seem like much on a single day, but it adds up and contributes to a wonderful research project.”

So I end this diary by thanking all expeditioners, whose time and funds make this expedition possible, our partner NABU Kyrgyzstan and its snow leopard rangers, our head ranger Aman and his wife Gulia, our amazing cook, our expedition scientist Dr. Taalai Mambetov and everyone else who helps to make this expedition a success. Thank you all. You all contribute to making this expedition what it is.

Group 3
Karin, Walter and Sarah recording evidence of ibex footprints
Haley & Aman
End of workday briefing
Haley, Lars and Irving outside the hired drying yurt
A game of ulak about to start
End of expedition dinner
End of expedition dinner
Dismantling base camp

Continue reading “Tien Shan: Wolf scat, snow leopard photos and petroglyphs”

Tien Shan: ulak and interviews

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Aman, our chief ranger, spotted them first, through binoculars. Once he pointed them out to us, they were obvious, even to the naked eye. Around twenty vultures circling over a spot on the far hillside, occasionally landing and pecking at… something. It was a dead horse. This valley is home to many herds of horses – not wild, but roaming free – and they occasionally fall victim to wolves. The vultures we saw might spend a few days getting a meal from what the wolves had left, a reminder for us of the circle of life.

Vultures are not part of our snow leopard expedition, but they are one of the more dramatic creatures that we have seen on this expedition. Our valley seems to have an unusually high population of large birds of prey. We see bearded vultures, golden eagles, buzzards and other raptors every day, often flying or perched on a rock very close to us. On group 2 we have also seen badgers – smaller, lighter coloured and less nocturnal than their European cousins, a mysteriously tame weasel and other mustelids, as well as a host of smaller bird species – wagtails, warblers, larks and choughs have all been seen and identified. The choughs are especially a welcome accompaniment to our high mountain walks, with their acrobatic flight and musical calls.

Most days we spend on hikes, slowly surveying many of the side valleys, peaks and ridges, looking for any evidence of the species we are researching – snow leopards and their main prey species (ibex, argali, marmots and snowcocks). Most days our small teams find something to report – marmots are relatively common on the lower slopes. Footprints or scat of ibex are found on the higher slopes and sometimes – always to great excitement – we see a herd of ibex walking along a ridge or up a slope. All of these findings are photographed and recorded on datasheets according to our research protocols.

We have also been deploying camera traps in suitable places – mostly on high ridges with signs of snow leopards or ibex – and have been able to check some of the cameras already. When we retrieve the traps or their SD cards, the exciting work of scrolling through all the photos begins. Many of them are of moving grass, sometimes even bright sunlight triggers them, so it is painstaking work. But sooner or later we are rewarded and we have happily discovered a handful of images of ibex, snowcocks and two snow leopards so far. These are important pieces of evidence for the research project as well as a source of great excitement for us at base camp. At the time of writing there are still a good few cameras waiting to be retrieved from the mountains by group 3.

We have had a few rainy cold days – this is the high mountains after all. But everyone has brought suitable clothing as recommended in the expedition kit list so our work continues whatever the weather. And the wood burner in our ‘drying’ yurt has proved very welcome when we return to base camp. An especially stormy night ripped a couple of our tents and we also suffered tent damage from a wayward animal. But we have enough spare tents, so no problem.

A new element of our research this year is a survey of the local shepherd families about the potential for ecotourism, which might offer a new source of income for local people, give an incentive to protect and encourage wildlife and perhaps in time allow a reduction in livestock numbers in the valley, which are in competition with the ibex and the argali. The interviews we have been carrying out are intended to assess interest in the idea. So far, volunteer citizen scientists Margot and Kathy have been our chief interviewers, accompanied by our scientist Taalai as interpreter. This team has been welcomed with wonderful hospitality by the women and men they have approached, and ten interviews have now been completed, with a great variety of responses. The great majority of people are in favour of small-scale ecotourism in the valley and at least one respondent said he would give up shepherding altogether in favour of an income from ecotourism.

These interviews have been a fantastic way of getting to know our neighbours. And more widely, it is clear that the Biosphere Expedition is very welcome here – the local shepherds are very hospitable and express a great interest in what we are doing. Last week we were invited to watch a game of Ulak – the national game of Kyrgyzstan, involving two teams of horse riders ferociously competing to score goals with a goat carcass – followed by a generous meal in a local shepherd’s yurt. Many toasts and promises of continued friendship and collaboration were made.

So group 2 has finished with great success and we look forward to starting our third and final group of this year’s snow leopard volunteer project in Kyrgyzstan on Monday.

Felix looking for ibex
Margot & Kathy with local shepherds
Pondering interview questions
Roland, Georg and Taalai on top of a ridge
Mountain survey
At the local natural history museum
Checking a camera trap
Ibex horns found in the field
Group 2

Continue reading “Tien Shan: ulak and interviews”

Tien Shan: Ibex, eagles, marmots and martens

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Group 2 is going well. Covid has not reared its ugly head again, so after getting to base and two days of training, several more valleys have now been surveyed.

We put new camera traps on a high ridge by an ibex superhighway. Whilst doing this, we saw a group of ibex further up the same ridge. We also spotted marmots, stoats, badgers, many many eagles, vultures, buzzards, and many other birds.

We also started doing interviews with people in the main valley to find out about their attitudes towards low-scale / low-impact ecotourism based on intact nature as a means of generating income for them. Our first interviewees were five herder’s wives. We found varying attitudes towards tourism, including some very open to the idea of hosting tourists and providing horses. We have more interviews planned, including with the herders themselves. We are also starting conversations about how livestock numbers are restricted (not very effectively) in the valley and the possibility of creating buffer valleys for wildlife without livestock.

Yesterday, Sunday, we came over the pass and into a local village with a phone signal, which is why I can send this diary update. A fuller account next weekend when we change over to group 3.

We’ve seen many, many butterflies
Mustelids (here a stoat)
And birds (here probably a golden eagle)
Collecting possible snow leopard scat
Collecting possible snow leopard scat
Setting up a camera trap on an ibex superhighway
The going is often tough in these pathless, undeveloped mountains

Continue reading “Tien Shan: Ibex, eagles, marmots and martens”

Tien Shan: Group 1 summary

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

It’s been a memorable two weeks. This has been the first Tien Shan snow leopard volunteer expedition for three years, we have a new scientist on the ground and various new equipment and systems, alongside the challenge of managing Covid risk on expedition.

The eleven snow leopard citizen scientists on this expedition can be proud of themselves as pioneers. The full team – the citizen scientists Jason, Jörg, Valerie, Anke, Coleen, Anne, Pierre, Alan, Nadine & Lydie, expedition leaders Roland and Malika, scientist Taalai, rangers Aman, Beka and Ayan, cook Gulia and placement Kubanychek – got on well from the start. The first two days of orientation and training were busy, but rewarding. After weeks of preparation, it was great to get started.

The snow leopard expeditioners were trained in everything needed for the success of the expedition, from off-road driving to the snow leopard research methods and expedition safety protocols. The new toilet and shower huts are a big improvement. The expedition office, in the back of the truck, worked well as a base for all the science kit and Gulia fed us all well from the start. The new solar power system, to charge all the gadgets and yurt lights was a disappointment for the first few days until Jason (citizen scientist and also an engineer) and Roland spotted and – with a little ingenuity – fixed a loose connection. We now have power as expected. Our new GPS units have taken a lot of effort to set up, but now we have all learnt their eccentricities, they are a vital tool to use for navigation, to mark the locations and camera traps and important research finds, and for satellite communication.

Within a few days we hit a rhythm and stride. One aim of the expedition, amongst others, is to find evidence of snow leopards or their prey over a vast area centred on the Karakol valley. We have a relatively simple and robust methodology to do this – spending each day exploring hidden side valleys, marking the location of any significant finds – sightings, footprints or any other evidence of key species. A lot of time is spent sitting in this beautiful mountain landscape, peering through binoculars. We also deploy camera traps in strategic positions high in the mountains. And we keep a tally of any bird species we can identify. Trekking up these valleys, with river crossings, rocky terrain and steep ground is hard work, especially since there are no well-trodden paths, signposts, bridges or any other mod cons in these rugged and remote mountains. But our efforts have been rewarded with several sightings of ibex, a key prey species for snow leopards, as well as many marmots, eagles and vultures. A highlight was discovering on one of camera traps – amongst dozens of photos of marmots, foxes, stoats (and a few mystery animals) – recorded three photos of a snow leopard walking down a snowy ridge in late last and then ibex in the same spot early this year. The camera trap was placed there by our community camera trapping group and retrieved by group 1 a few days ago.

An unwanted twist to our snow leopard expedition story were two Covid infections early in the expedition, despite all our precautions, and then two more. Our Covid protocol was implemented with the first case and I am happy to report that we managed to stop the virus spreading further.

Towards the end of the expedition, a few hardy expeditioners chose to hike for six hours up to a spot high above base camp and spend a night under the stars, to allow the next day to be spent exploring a remote ridge with a lot of signs of ibex – a great location to place camera traps for both the ibex and, hopefully, any snow leopards that might be stalking them.

Over the past two weeks we have surveyed 100 ‘cells’ on our target map – representing 400 square kilometres of mountain terrain – we have had several sightings of ibex, recorded evidence of many key species and captured images of snow leopards on camera traps – all in all a great success. The team 1 now retires tired, but happy. From Monday, team 2 has big boots to fill and we look forward to exploring the Karakol Valley and add to our research findings. with a fresh team of citizen scientists

Survey walk
Collecting snow leopard sign
Observation stop
Team 1
Taalai is happy with the results
Survey walk
Setting up a camera trap
Overnighter team
Checking camera trap pictures
Ranger Aman showing the way
Observation stop
Base camp in all its glory
On a survey
Recording data
Programming camera traps

Continue reading “Tien Shan: Group 1 summary”

Tien Shan: Training in the rain and cold

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

The first group of snow leopard volunteer citizen scientists were there, all Covid-free on Monday. The drive to base was over a rough pass, which is almost free of snow now and just about passable for 4×4 cars.

At base, it rained and was cold. This did not change for the next two days of training, so it was tough going. When the rain stopped for a while, we put up the third yurt and put a stove in it. This helped.

With training (science, equipment, offroad driving, data collection etc.) complete, we went for a first survey as one group on Thursday. Today, Friday, the sun has come out and we are surveying in several groups for the first time.

Everyone’s in good spirits, healthy (except for a bothersome contact lens courtesy of which we can send this short diary entry) and having fun. More news when we get to a signal next. This might not be until changeover on 24/25 July, so please be patient.

On the way to base
Setting up the “hot” yurt
Setting up the “hot” yurt
Indoor training session
Programming camera traps at base
Setting up a camera trap

Continue reading “Tien Shan: Training in the rain and cold”

Tien Shan: One week to go

Update from our snow leopard volunteer project to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Preparations begin long before our snow leopard citizen scientists start their journeys. This expedition especially involves A LOT of preparation. Our partners in Kyrgyzstan have been getting things ready and I, Roland, have now joined them in Bishkek for the last week’s push before the expedition starts.

Bishkek is located in one of the few parts of Kyrgyzstan that is not mountains and the weather here is hot hot hot and hazy. We will be heading up into the mountains in a few days to set up base camp and recce our expedition area, which will be much cooler – we may even have snow at base camp on some nights.

In the meantime, there is shopping to be done, kit to check and 4×4 vehicles to prepare. And meetings to be held too. Our base in Bishkek is the headquarters of NABU Kyrgyzstan, our main partner here, and this is where I have been spending my time when not shopping. I have been joined by Amadeus, a veteran of the Tien Shan expeditions (and former placement) and Taalai who is our new scientist directing the snow leopard research this year. I have also met Gulia, our base camp cook and Aman, our chief ranger, as well as Jirgal, Jengish, Ayan and Bek, the NABU rangers from the Grupa Barz (the NABU ranger group tasked with protecting snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan), who will be joining our groups on a rota system.

I am happy to say we are on target with preparations. Most of the shopping is now done and we have been through most of the kit – everything from tents, cooking stuff and fuel to a full mobile office and various gadgets for communication, navigation and safety. New this year are wooden huts for the toilet and shower (the tents used in previous years were not up to the job) and a set of GPS devices that give us digital mapping (for general navigation), a tool for research and a means of communication in an emergency in a region with no phone signal. We have also invested in a solar power system so that we can charge all the gadgetry properly. Tomorrow we will be joined by Malika, also a veteran of many a Tien Shan expedition and our expedition leader for the first group starting next Monday. But first, there is base camp to set up. I for one can’t wait to get up into those mountains.

We’ll send another diary entry once we are back in Bishkek. Happy packing, group 1!

From left: Tolkunbek (boss of NABU Kyrgyzstan), Ayan (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Roland (expedition leader), Bek (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Jengish (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Jengish (NABU Grupa Barz ranger), Taalai (expedition scientist).
Amadeus and Aman food shopping
NABU truck that will get all the gear to the mountains
Container for gear storage and “flatpack” shower and toilet blocks
One thing the pandemic has taught is is meeting online more. Here Biosphere Expeditions executive director Matthias with the team in Bishkek

P.S. Roland now has a local SIM card and his number is +996 9972 07208 . This will only work when he’s in Bishkek though, so for example for group pick-up and changeover, but not when he’s in the mountains, where there is no mobile phone signal.

Continue reading “Tien Shan: One week to go”
%d bloggers like this: