From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

The last week of the Sumatran tiger expedition has been very busy. The team took part in a village ceremony the day after the buffalo sacrifice. It was a festive affair with traditional music, dance and song. The whole team also went on an overnight camping trip to survey cells far up the river. One of the survey teams had quite a fright when two sun bears ran out in front of them! “Febri had to sound the air horn to scare them away from the area before we could safely continue the survey” explains Paul from the UK. In the same survey cell scat from a leopard cat was also found, a rather rare find. The other team did not encounter any bears, but they did get a birds-eye view of the reserve after a very steep climb to a clear summit.

We also visited the school in Batu Sanggan village. This is one of the eight villages that lie inside the reserve. About 40 children attend the elementary school there and they were all eager to learn about the rainforest and its animal inhabitants. One of the five rangers that work in the Rimbang Bailing wildlife reserve accompanied us to the school visit, and in the evening back at the research station we had the chance to ask him questions and he told us about his work in the reserve, “We work closely with WWF and one of the most important parts of my work is education. Through education and local empowerment we have managed to turn 60 hectares of palm oil plantation back to the reserve and we are currently working on reforestation of that area.” This is good news indeed, considering the rangers here have no power actually to enforce the rules of the reserve, and lacking any boats to patrol the reserve themselves the partnership with WWF is of utmost importance.

During the second slot of the expedition, we successfully collected all of the eleven camera traps that were placed by the first team and surveyed the same amount of cells. One extra camera was placed behind the research station, making it twelve camera traps in total. We conducted four interviews with local villagers, hosted one school group at the station, and visited one school inside the reserve. The camera traps recorded banded palm civet, pig-tailed macaque, long-tailed macaques, barking deer, mouse deer, porcupine and wild pig. We also recorded signs of agile gibbon, siamang, sun bear, water buffalo, leopard cat, wild pig, porcupine and long-tailed macaque during our surveys. This is good news as it means there are plenty of potential prey for tigers. More good news is that Febri’s tiger team who work deep inside the reserve caught tigers mating on one of their camera traps this year. Hopefully there will soon be more tigers inside the reserve.

A big thank you to everyone who has helped out this year. Thanks to your tireless effort we have successfully been able to survey the northern buffer zone of the Rimbang Bailing Reserve, an area where data was seriously lacking. Because our focus this year was there, no tiger signs were recorded, but closing this gap of knowledge was very important for the overall picture that WWF is building of Rimbang Baling and tiger survival there. The outlook for tigers is much better at Rimbang Baling than many other places in the world – and you have contributed to making it so. Thank you from me, from Biosphere Expeditions and WWF for giving up your time and money to do this. You also helped educate local communities about the importance of preserving the forest. This is also vital if tigers are to have a future, because their future is tied intimately to that of their human neighbours in remote areas such as Rimbang Baling. So thank you again for your contribution and I hope to see you again sometime, somewhere on this beautiful blue-green planet of ours.

Ida Vincent
Expedition leader

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

The past few days have been busy. We had one overnight trip camping out in the jungle and surveying cells further upriver, as well as surveys in cells closer to the station. There has been a lot of rain upriver and the Subayang River rose as high as it does during the wet season, making it impossible for us to reach the furthest upstream survey cell. Giant logs were coming down the now rapid river and the illegal logging activities were sent into a flurry, with people trying to utilise the high water levels to transport their booty. “It is heartbreaking to see how much illegal logging is taking place, right out in the open” says Claire Howell from the UK. The buffer zone is a beehive of activity with the constant noise of chainsaws going, trees falling, men dragging logs down towards the river, and boats transporting long trains of logs. “We are currently lobbying the government in Jakarta to upgrade the Rimbang Bailing Wildlife Reserve to National Park status” explains Febri, the WWF tiger scientist, “if it gets National Park status, there will be a lot more resources available and the illegal activities in both the buffer zone and inside the reserve can be better policed.”

The team also attended a local ceremony. The community in Tanjug Belit village believes a bad spirit is residing at the local waterfall and that this spirit is responsible for a recent accident there. To appease the spirit, a water buffalo was sacrificed followed by the biannual opening of one of the sacred ponds. The scared ponds are a part of the river, which is closed to fishing apart from twice a year when fishing is allowed for one day only. We watched as men pulled up large catfish much to the delight of the surrounding boats. In the afternoon after the fishing had concluded, we hosted a group of eleven children at the research station, educating them about conservation and playing games. “Today was a game changer for me“ says expeditioner Matt from the USA. “Seeing how welcoming the community is, them wanting us to be part of their ceremonies, and meeting the kids who all seem to care a great deal about the environment really gave me a lot of hope for the future of Rimbang Bailing.”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

What an end to the 2017 Tian Shan expedition! Group 4 was fantastic and we were able to cover a lot of ground during the second week, even with frozen mornings every day.

When I last wrote, we were in Dong Alysh enjoying the zoological museum. On our return to base we found out that it had been snowing all morning, but the afternoon sun had melted everything. So we all got ready the next day for our first full day out in the valley across the river from base camp, Kashka Tor. We split into three groups to cover lots of ground and pushed ourselves hard – and did not stop for the next few days of surveys either.

Our by then well-earnt day off was spent at Kolya’s yurt. This is just a bit to the west of base camp and we spent a good amount of time riding horses and even learning some fun horse tricks.

Monday was next and we meant business. We started cranking through cells one by one really quickly. One of our groups also had two community camera trapping members come up from the village of Dong Alysh for training on camera trapping. They were able to set four camera traps that day on a ridge line near base camp.

‌And then, right towards the end of the expedition, one of the valleys in which we have surveyed in each group came up aces. The east side of Chong Chikan held four separate places with snow leopard tracks and some very fresh wolf scat and tracks. What a way to end the season! Volodya was of course very excited to have seen both species co-inhabiting and competing for resources in the same place where we knew it was happening.

‌Friday was spent packing up base camp and then having a super last evening together with local neighbours joining us for a bonfire.

‌So in the end, group 4 covered 56 cells and had two ibex sightings, a snowcock sighting, and then most amazingly, wolf and snow leopard sign in the same place.

I would like to end this expedition diary by saying thank you to everyone. You expeditioners could have spent your summer lying on a beach somewhere. Instead you chose to help us – and Kyrgyzstan and snow leopard / nature conservation. Thank you so much for this and for all the effort and resources you put in – it really is very much appreciated by all involved, whether it’s Biosphere Expeditions, NABU or the local people. Thank you also to NABU and of course the Grupa Bars representatives Aman and Shiloo. Gulya – you have been an amazing cook and really made the expedition complete. Volodya – thank you for being our superb scientist answering all our questions. And thank you to all the local people who have helped, hosted us, talked to us and shown an interest in our work. And last but not least, thank you Biosphere Expeditions for being the NGO you are and making it all possible for all of us.

I hope to see many of you again, somewhere, sometime on this beautiful planet of ours.

Best wishes

Expedition leader

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

The second Sumatran tiger team have settled into the WWF Subayang Research Station and have been trained in the field methodology and use of scientific equipment. After extensive training, we set out yesterday into the jungle to test out our new skills and to place a camera trap on the hill behind the research station. In 2015 our expedition recorded a leopard cat there, so we figured we would try our luck again. There certainly is a lot of animal activity in the jungle at night – we can hear animals stir in the undergrowth all night and each morning we are woken by gibbons calling in the trees. A curious long-tailed macaque looked down at us from a branch as we were sitting on the station veranda and large wild pigs are roaming the grounds, so there is no lack of wildlife activity.

Yesterday morning we did our first real survey, revisiting a cell that was surveyed during the first slot. We retrieved the camera that was placed three weeks ago by team one and we completed a full survey of the cell. Repetition is important to strengthen the data that we collect. In the afternoon we went into Tanjung Belit village to conduct interviews. This part of the work is imperative as it helps WWF to better understand people’s perception and allows WWF to mobilise outreach teams to educate people about tiger conservation and the role they play in the ecosystem.

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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

I am back in Pekanbaru after a short break and getting ready for the start of the second slot of our Sumatran tiger expedition. This next group will continue the surveys in the rainforest of the Rimbang Bailing nature reserve and we will also be retrieving the camera traps that the last group placed. It is always exciting to see what they have captured – in the past we have captured a variety of wildlife including clouded leopard, leopard cat, sun bear, mouse deer and cheeky long-tailed macaque posing for selfies. I look forward to meeting you all tomorrow, Monday, at 08.00 in the lobby of the Red Planet hotel for our transfer to the Subayang Research station.

Learning to set camera traps

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Ever since the gale force winds at the end of group 3, the weather here has been quite strange. We left Bishkek on a cool Monday morning. Once we arrived at base, there was plenty of work to do. Aman and Shailoo both went to the neighbour to help take down their yurt so we could reassemble it at base. Everyone else got busy finishing up the cleaning job left from group 3’s storm. That evening we all got settled in and ended the night with a large pot of Ukrainian borscht made by Volodya.

The next day is usually a training day, but the circumstances required a bit of a change. We spent the first half of the day putting up the new yurt and switching the old yurt to become Gulya’s new kitchen area. The base camp looked great again! At the same time as the yurt setup, some of the group drove down the valley to the opening ceremony of a new NABU snow leopard statue. Tolkunbek, the local director of NABU, was very glad that we made the effort to have Biosphere Expeditions represented at this ceremony.

Wednesday got started early with training in methodology, equipment, and camera trapping followed by a short half day out in Sary Kul. We thought our first day out tradition would continue with rain, but although the clouds threatened, the weather stayed clear.

But that did not last through the night. Waking up this morning, we were surrounded by snow. Our initial plan of surveying Irii Suu and Takyr Tor just was not be feasible in such conditions, so plan B took immediate effect and now we’re here in Dong Alysh at the zoological museum, working with our local partners on camera trap training and hoping that tomorrow’s weather will be clear and beautiful so we can get started with our full day surveys.

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan

When we last checked in, we were in the zoological museum in the village of Dong Alysh on the other side of the pass from our camp. Seeing such an impressive museum in such a small village was reassuring for us all as it means that the young people in the area are learning about their natural environment and why it is important, and keeping this heritage with them throughout adulthood. Jana from the USA said, “Its amazing that such a museum even exists out here!”

While we were away at the museum, it had actually snowed at base camp, but by the time we were back it was all melted and the clouds cleared up to start drying things out. The weather had finally turned in our favour.

Sunday was our day off and we made good use of it by washing and drying all our damp clothes, bathing in the river, and then spending the afternoon at a neighbour’s yurt for a late lunch mixed in with some horse riding. One of our expeditioners, Kate from New Zealand, has been riding horses her whole life and the looks on all the local Kyrgyz herdsmen’s faces when she started riding the “feisty” horse were priceless! They were shocked! Aman, one of our guides, showed us how he could reach down from horseback and grab a hat while galloping. By the end of the meal, we almost had to be rolled back to basecamp. All in all the day off was as perfect as it could be.

Surveys started right back up again with the weather cooperating nicely. On Wednesday we were able to send out an overnight group to collect some camera traps that group 1 had set up during their overnighter. Some herders came up to Volodya during the overnighter trip to tell him that one of their foals had been attacked by a snow leopard that week and wanted to know if we had found any other evidence of the cat. In fact we did find evidence of a cat…but of a lynx! On the camera trap in the same valley as the herders had their foal attacked, a lynx decided to pose beautifully in front of the camera trap. “This is something extraordinary!” Volodya said.

Friday we had a half day survey as the local herders were going to have a game of Kok Boru, or as many of us started calling it, “Kyrgyz polo”. This is a traditional nomadic game played on horseback and can get very exciting! The game was great and then abruptly ended as everyone saw some large dark clouds rolling in from down the valley. We all quickly ran back to basecamp and sheltered in the yurt. When the storm reached us, we quickly realised that this was no ordinary storm…it was a full-blown hurricane and it took all of us holding the yurt together to keep it from flying away. Both our mess tent and Gulya’s wonderfully organised kitchen tent were lifted up and ripped apart by the wind and hail. We watched through openings of the yurt as our basecamp was destroyed in less than 15 minutes of strong winds. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, all the personal tents held strong, and nothing of value (other than our two large tents) was lost. A standing ovation to group 3 members who, as soon as the wind had died down, were all outside cleaning up the aftermath. Our large mess tents have to be ordered in, so group 4, we’ll hire a yurt from a neighbour to house the kitchen and mess tent area.

I’ll wrap up this entry by sharing group 3’s recordings. We were able to survey 49 cells, had 5 direct sightings of ibex, 26 cells had signs of marmot presence, 7 cells with snowcock sign, 1 new species of butterfly for the region (Karanasa kirgisorum), over 150 petroglyph recordings taken, many camera trap photos of ibex, but perhaps most excitingly, images of a lynx in a location where traditionally they are not thought to live! One more group to get something snowleopardy!

Thank you so much group 3! Three down, one more to go. See you Monday, group 4.


From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia

The first slot of the expedition is now completed and we have arrived back in Pekanbaru after 13 days in the rain forest. The last few days were spent completing the surveys and placing the last camera traps, as well as with a school visit.

We visited the school in Murabio village and Febri gave a talk about the animals in the region and the importance of conserving the environment and wildlife. After the presentation, we spent time playing games with the children, much to their delight. Education and community involvement is one of the most important aspects of the work that WWF carries out in the region and it felt good to be part of that process.

Everyone was sad to say goodbye and Martyn from Australia reflected on his experience, “My favorite was the overnight trip. I have never slept in the jungle before. Or rather I didn’t sleep, there were so many wonderful sounds to listen to I couldn’t sleep.” Pam from the USA really enjoyed the comradery of the team “I am really grateful that everyone helped me generously when I was tired, encouraging me and being patient.” While Neil from Italy said his favorite part of the expedition was doing something useful for the planet.

Slot 1 during its time in Rimbang Baling Reserve placed eleven camera traps and surveyed the same number of cells for signs of tiger prey species and illegal logging and poaching. We also conducted nine interviews with local people about their perception of tigers. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this slot a success!