Snow leopard conservation – just a click (no more) to help!

Thank you to everyone who has voted for our snow leopard project so far.

The vote organisers tell us we are in second place behind a very large organisation, so please help us achieve the unexpected, become David and beat Goliath! If you have not done so yet, then please vote now – it only takes a few seconds to support the Biosphere underdog and you do not have to register, pay or reveal your e-mail to vote.

If you want to support the underdog even more, then help us spread the word by sharing on your social and other networks.

 

Snow leopard conservation – just a click (no more) to help!

VOTE FOR US ONLINE TO SAVE THE SNOW LEOPARD

Snow leopards are critically endangered throughout their range. Threatened by poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss, there are only a few thousand left in the wild! We need your help to protect them and win a snow leopard conservation grant from EOCA (European Outdoor Conservation Association) through an online vote. With the help of this grant we will be able to give snow leopard conservation a powerful boost through research, community involvement and education, and by generating local income through nature-based tourism.

The more votes we receive, the more likely we are to win the conservation grant, so please share this message across your social networks and tell your friends to vote for snow leopards too.

The Altai’s snow leopards need all our help. Please vote now!

Biosphere Expeditions (www.biosphere-expeditions.org) is an international non-profit conservation organisation that has been working in snow leopard conservation in the Altai Republic for over a decade (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/altai). Our biggest achievement during that time was contributing to the declaration of a protected area for snow leopard. The work of not making it a paper park (these are protected areas that exist on paper, but are not enforced and therefore meaningless on the ground) has only just begun. We need your help to win the EOCA grant for this work.

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

We thought you might all like to see a piece of news from the Wild Cat News of the International Society of Endangered Cats (http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Wild-Cat-News-Newsletter.html?soid=1101677680798&aid=crQ7iXapKRQ#LETTER.BLOCK17)

Volunteers Find New Data on Pallas’ Cats

Last month, Biosphere Expeditions returned from another successful wildlife conservation project in the Altai Mountains of Asia with some very exciting findings.

Biosphere Expeditions is an international not-for-profit organisation which co-ordinates regular wildlife conservation projects where volunteers from around the globe can take part – enabling them to see parts of the world they might not otherwise be able to, while giving something back.

Their latest expedition to the Altai Mountains was primarily focused on gathering information about the endangered Snow Leopard. However, this year they made a rather significant discovery. By laying camera traps and tracking scrapes, they found that the Pallas’ Cat climbs to much higher altitudes than previously thought.

Pallas' Cat camera-trapped by Biosphere Expeditions research team at 3100 metres
Pallas’ Cat camera-trapped by Biosphere Expeditions research team at 3100 metres

This information will enable local conservation groups such as WWF Russia and Arkhar NGO to gain a better understanding of the behaviour of the local wildlife in a mountainous habitat, where many threatened or endangered species live.

The Pallas’ Cat has been classified as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN since 2002, so any new information that can be compiled about them will contribute to better conservation of the species and their habitat.

The expedition to Altai sent five groups of volunteers for two weeks at a time to support Biosphere and the local conservation teams.

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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)

I wanted to thank you everyone who joined us this year on the Altai expedition. I arrived back in Germany yesterday and I am very happy with what we have achieved this year. It was the first year we placed camera traps and with your help we have been able to set up 10 camera traps around Sailugem and Talduiar and two more on Chickachova ridge.

Camera trap locations 2012
Camera trap locations 2012

Camera traps CT5, CT 6, CT 9 and the two camera traps at Chickachova are still out and will be checked by our partners at WWF Russia / Arkhar NGO later in the year.

On CT 2 we were able to get some Pallas Cat pictures which is very good news as this cat wasn’t known to climb to that altitude (3100 m). The other camera traps showed lots of prey species, which I will put into our statistics and the expedition report.

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We did not get a photo of our elusive mountain ghost (but Sergei Spitsyn from Arkhar NGO did on Chickachova Ridge), but I am very happy to announce that we were successful in finding the all important snow leopard scrapes on the ridges in Slot 2, Slot 3 and Slot 4  On Chickachova we were able to find six scrapes and we set up one of our camera traps (CT- Ch01) in front of one. Most of the scrapes around Sailugem and Talduiar were found on the Sailugem valley ridge, where two more camera traps are still “on the hunt” for us.

A big thanks to slot 4 who found a scrape with scat up on the ridge at Talduiar and managed to set up two more camera trapos. The scat is already 98 confirmed as snow leopard scat has been passed on to WWF for DNA analysis. Another big predator scat was found near Talduiar at 2900 m and we are waiting for the results.

Prey species were found and counted during each slot and my preliminary analyses show that prey numbers in our study area are increasing.

In summary our 2012 expedition set up twelve camera traps, checked and removed seven camera traps, found up to twelve scrapes, observed more than 100 prey species and interviewed nine local families.

As you know conservation is partly research and partly conservation action with animals, local stakeholders, etc. Please don’t feel that you have not contributed if you were not one of the mountain goats putting camera traps up on the high ridges. We need to take a holisitc view and all data we collect about prey and predators and with local stakeholders, high or low, is a useful piece of the puzzle. And also remember that it is YOU who make all this research possible in the first place. Without you, there would be no Biosphere expedition to the Altai, no expedition reports and none of the local economic incentives that come with a largish multi-month expedition such as ours. The Altai is at a crossroad, just as Montana was perhaps a hundred years ago when in transformed from a cattle-based to a tourism-based economy or the Alps when they transformed from an isolated, poverty-stricken rural backwater to a prosperous tourism-based economy. With our low-impact, high local involvement conservation expedition we are at the spearhead of what could be a very positive transformation for local wildlife and people. The transformation will take time, one or two generations perhaps, but if we can help our local partners avoid the mistakes we have made in Europe or North America, then we will have won. Do not underestimate the power our mere presence has on shaping people’s opinions on the value of wildlife and a nature-based economy. “What pays, stays” is what conservationists often say, and we together are a perfect example of how things can work for everyone, which will not be lost on local people. This aspect of our expedition is only set to increase as we deepen our relationship with local operators and NGOs, so thank you again everyone for being a part of this in 2012.

Jenny Kraushaar
Expedition scientist

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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)

So its all over! Thank you everyone, it has certainly been an adventure. I have been in the Altai a month now, our expedition scientist, Jenny, has  returned to Germany and I have had the rather large task of packing up and putting the expedition to bed for a year. I have stored the camp equipment and the Land Rovers and tomorrow I fly home to England.

The final slot ended on Saturday with some sad goodbyes and after giving Novosibirsk a taste of our disco dancing! Still, it was an early night after such a mammoth drive.

Friday morning we set off from base camp and stopped quickly to have a look at the new snow leopard museum set up by the Snow Leopard Conservancy, WWF and other local parties. We dropped off two team members, Alice and Lucy, to help further with the set up of the museum. The rest of us carried on to Kamlak and the pleasure/pain ritual of a Siberian banya!

I spent Thursday packing up camp, the others went out to local yurts and interviewed locals about their attitudes towards the snow leopard, the environment and the encroachment of the outside world on their way of life. Hannes and Martin braved one of the close-by ridges. Wind and rain, however, called them back before lunch. I like the spirit though guys! Jenny got back last night from her meeting with leaders in the Altai snow leopard research in Kosh Agash and was called back again to talk more about the role of Biosphere Expeditions’ research. Hopefully in the future more collaboration in this area of research can further benefit this fragile region.

Spitsyn snow leopard
Spitsyn snow leopard

I’ll let Jenny add an addendum to this diary in due course with a summary of the research, camera trap pictures taken, etc. We end on a high though, as news is coming through of a camera trap picture of a snow leopard on our very “own” Chicachova ridge, taken by Sergey Spitsyn of Arkhar NGO and one of the very people whom Jenny saw in Kosh Agach. This camera trap picture and a short video of our windy and sunny work is now on WordPress.

Thank you so much everyone for helping us with snow leopard research in the Altai. We could not do this without you and we can all feel proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s a long hard slog, as we all know, but we have taken another step thanks to you all.

Best wishes

Adam Stickler
Expedition leader

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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)

Here’s what happened since my last update.

Thursday (16 Aug) was our first day out walking so we chose a nearby valley to get everybody’s legs and lungs working at this altitude. The skills still fresh from training yesterday were put to good use. As soon as we had left the tree line, we spotted two groups of ibex (one with 3 males, 3 females, 3 juveniles, the second with 4 adults, 2 juvenilea) wandering up the scree and out of sight over the ridge. The sighting was logged (correctly!) on the datasheets using GPS and compass. There was snow on the highest ridges; unfortunately this is where snow leopards like to live. Climbing up would be difficult and dangerous for a big group so Martin and Hannes took up the challenge with Oleg, Jenny and I leaving the rest of the group surveying the valley floor with our visiting scientist Anna (a scrape was found here last slot). Camera traps 2 and 8 were successfully collected and revealed unidentifiable ghostly figures moving in the night. The importance of a test day became clear as Wan-Lin’s walking boot sole came clean off as she crossed a stream. Luckily, Hannes, the man with a plan (and a rucksack full of EVERYTHING) came to the rescue by pulling out a roll of duct tape and neatly lashing the sole back on. The shoe held together back to camp and is still going strong.

Taping Wan Lin's shoe
Taping Wan Lin’s shoe

More sunshine on Friday (17 Aug) prompted a move to an advanced base camp with the objective of retrieving a number of camera traps placed around a ridge near a high tarn (lake). It was a day hike to the lake and back and a select few (Hannes, Martin, Karl, Jenny, Kate, Oleg and I) would be left at the lake overnight to spend tomorrow at the top of the ridge retrieving the traps. All of us helped shift camp to the lake and then the valley group (with Anna) retreated down the boulder field to research the steppe habitat in the valley. As we (the ridge group) saw the valley group disappearing with Oleg, stormy clouds gathered and the first drops of snow started falling. Still, we had had fun designing sleeping arrangements. Hannes (ever a man for an experiment) had rigged a tarp/stone house and intended to sleep the night there. Karl and I preferred the simple approach and brought bivi bags. The rest preferred to use the two lightweight camouflage tents.  It started to snow at 21.00 and soon the bivi bags gave up, both Karl and my sleeping bags were soaking wet, we decided to head into the tents. Now the two tents were at maximum capacity (3 persons) with Hannes stubbornly sticking it out in his homemade den. As the snow built up into the early hours of yesterday morning (18 Aug) we had to wake up every half hour to kick the snow off the roof of our tent to avoid it collapsing. Hannes fared less well! At regular intervals during the night his tarp buckled under the weight of the snow. This was his signal to wake up and bash the snow off, getting soaking wet in the meantime. At around 03.45 he gave up too and showed up at our tent begging for somewhere warm to sleep! Naturally, we allowed the soaking wet German inside and spent the next 3 sleepless hours crushed up like sardines. At least we were warm!

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We couldn’t get up the ridge (for obvious reasons) yesterday, so after a brief breakfast we set off on the 4-hour journey back to the Land Rover. The camera traps will have to wait for another day. That’s the uncertainty of expeditions!

We arrived back at basecamp safely where it was raining. The rest of the group had decided (wisely) not to venture out onto the steppe and instead they were keeping warm in the mess tent. At time of writing the rain has stopped and the cloud is breaking up! Time to make another plan!

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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 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 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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