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

Our trailblazing group 1 has survived introductions, training sessions and a 4×4 driving course and is now out in the field to set up the first box trap. In the last couple of days we learnt a lot about Namibia, the ecosystem we are working in, our study animals and their prey, research methods and safety procedures in the bush.

We also had our first elephant sighting yesterday afternoon – three mothers and six juveniles showed up for us at ‘Frankposten’ waterhole. They were busy drinking, playing and taking a dirt bath when we came across them just as it was getting dark. It was a thrilling experience and unsurprisingly everyone is keen to go out for more.

Elephant
Elephant

I am happy to report that group 1 did not have to join in the dirt bath shenanigans, albeit a minor teething problems incidents at our brand new field base (a broken water pump) has split the group into hot shower wimps and cold shower hardcore expeditioners. The wimps, however, showed great esprit de corps by letting the hardcore contingent use their showers…

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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)

Another day, another group (welcome all on group 4), another leader, another long, but beautiful drive with glaciers visible on the mountains. The half-way sauna and river swim was enjoyed by all; the queuing for permits not so much, but we accept this as part of the adventure now. I am writing this from the last control gate before the Altai mountains open up before us for a late night base camp arrival and more snow leopard conservation adventures

Another day in the mobile office
Another day in the mobile office 😉

Best wishes

Adam

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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)

We’ve just finished the turnaround at Novosibirsk and I have handed over to Adam Stickler (see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/staff) for the last two groups. Adam will be trained by Jenny (who is also a full-blown expedition leader in her other lives in Namibia and the Azores for example). I am writing this from the Sibir in Novosibirsk, waiting for my flight back to Australia tonight. Here’s the summary (with pictures at https://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/) of what happened on slot 3 since the last update.

22 July

Base camp was like a beehive this morning, buzzing with activity. We were getting ready for our first overnighter at Salyugem lake and it is quite incredible how much stuff we manage to pack into our small backpacks. Not only all our sleeping gear, but also the food for two days and all the scientific gear Jenny needs. Coming up the valley we really did look like an expedition.

The first ibex of the day showed up not far from the forest and when we climbed the very last ledge facing the lake, there was another herd of 15. The overnight team set up advanced camp while I headed back with Samara and Dani. Although tired, they negotiated the famous lake scree magnificently and we flew through the valley. And then Samara saw another viper. She certainly has a gift for animal spotting.

When we got to base camp, the weather took a turn for the worse. The whole steppe was bathed in thick haze and cold and a strong wind was blowing through. But looking over Salyugem, there was not a cloud in sight.

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23 July

It was a cold night and the lake team felt it first thing in the morning. Climbing up the ridge it even started hailing, but luckily it didn’t last too long and no one got too wet. Then the disappointment of the non-functional camera trap (see my 23 July entry below). The entire team then took a lesson from Oleg in scree running and safely made it back to the lake. They enjoyed their time in the mountains so much that they didn’t make it back to base until 19:00.

We didn’t have a bad day at base either. In the very early morning we headed to Kokoria with Olga to stock up on groceries, only to find the shop closed. Luckily someone saw us hanging around and alerted the shop owner, a lovely lady called Irina, who came running after us and kindly opened her “magazine”. Later on I took the rest of the group and went to find the elusive petroglyph everyone keeps talking about. After some rather extensive search, we found an enormous wall with numerous inscriptions of mostly deer, ibex and wild boar. On the small rock nearby was an incredibly realistic depiction of a man on a horse hunting deer. A very enjoyable afternoon.

Unfortunately that was it for the science for the day. Samara’s birthday determined the course of the evening. Happy birthday!

25 July

Excellent day! Time to retrieve our first camera in Kunduayk valley. Walking well above the river, we wondered why we have very little water at camp when only a kilometre up the river is still a raging torrent. We reached the end of the valley in record time. Jenny and Oleg took Gordon and Dani to take a look at the saddle above the main ridge, but it was hard for them to cross the slippery scree. Meanwhile Fred, Mark, Friedie and I climbed to the camera trap and I nervously slipped the memory card into my laptop. It was quite a relief to find it full of ibex pictures. We left the camera there, hoping for more and slowly returned to base camp where we were rewarded for our efforts by Olga’s excellent borscht and a spectacular sunset later on.

26 July

Last day in the mountains. Kampi Petrovich has kindly agreed to show us his secret valley with mineral springs and possibly a waterfall. We picked him up from his yurt, attended to his injured horse and set off. Yet again it was glorious day and the drive through the steppe was spectacular. Fred and Mark negotiated all the stream crossing and bogs really well and before long, we arrived at one the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. Unfortunately the mineral spring was full of mud, to Kampi’s disgust, so we headed off over to the waterfall. Once we climbed the short hill, the scenery got even better, with a blue lake dominating the landscape. While some decided to rest by the lake, Fred, Gordon and I headed over to the waterfall a little bit further on. 15 minutes later we were sitting in the cool pool below. Mark and Friedy kept the science going and spotted both a golden eagle’s nest and two lammergeyers flying in and out. They then topped it up with three ibex on the top of the ridge. What a great day. Or was it? After all the training and explaining how to get through the mud, I managed to get myself nicely stuck with the Land Rover and there was nothing that would move the car. In the end we had to jack each wheel and put rocks under it to get it out. Our camp fire was roaring till late at night, as was Gordon and with his beautiful signing. Ivan then recited some Russian poems to us before we finally retired to bed.

27 and 28 July

The scenery on the way was spectacular; nothing like we have seen before. Clear skies meant that for the first time we could see the Altai mountains in their full beauty. We made it to Kamlak in record time and all plunged into the river to cool down. We noticed the forest fires along the way and the ever-present smell of smoke. Later on we found out that we were in the midst of one of the worst forest fires in Siberian history, so far wiping out around 50,000 hectares of forest.

We arrived back at Novosibirsk in the afternoon. It has been great expedition, well done team 3. You will be missed. All the best for Adam’s teams four and five – I will be thinking of you and follow Adam’s diaries with interest.

Best wishes

Jiri

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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)

Just a quick one now with more details when have a minute in between switching groups and handing over to Adam. Thank you group 3, you have been excellent and we have achieved a lot (see Jenny’s presentation on http://www.slideshare.net/BiosphereExpeditions/altai-snow-leopard-expedition-iii2012).

Group 3
Group 3

Roll in group 4 and 5!

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

This is a quick hello from Kristina, our helpers and I. We spent the last couple of days (and nights!) with preparing paperwork and and getting set up with the work you will be doing. Group 1 will be the first team ever to survey the herd of nine (wild!) elephants in the study site. And wild they are indeed, and agressive they can be, so this will literally be no Etosha / Krueger cushy drive in the park where you will know where the pretty tame and vehicle-habituated animals are by spotting all the safari vehicles around them! More on the dangers and how to avoid them when you get here.

Elephants
Elephants

We’re about to move into camp – believe it or not, construction work is still going on all around camp with a small army of workers swarming around in a good termite mound impression. But the houses look good and habitable (sort of). You’ll be glad to know that the furniture has turned up and also the mattrasses. We also think that the bathrooms will be connected soon to the water line, otherwise it’s dust baths for group 1 to get into the spirit of elephant surveys. And we all know that no true expedition is ever complete without getting really dusty. As to the bar, you’ll have to find out when you get here.

These minor comfort issues aside, we are as excited as you hopefully are and we are looking forward to meeting trailblazing group 1 tomorrow morning at Casa Piccolo.

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

It’s great to be back in Namibia! Kristina and I went out for a drive around the study site yesterday. We found a baboon caught in a cheetah trap…

Construction work is still going on at base camp. The huts are being painted and the furniture will be delivered soon (we hope) while Kristina and I have taken two more Land Rovers to Windhoek to be fitted with new tyres and batteries. It’s all the usual last-minute African mayhem, which for us Krauts is hard to deal with 😉

Trailblazers in group 1, please be prepared for teething problems at camp and everything else you can imagine. Here’s the first thing we’re throwing at you: there will be limited electricity at base camp for the first couple of days (or weeks). We are still waiting to be connected to the main electricity line and while we wait, a generator will be used to feed our power-hungry equipment, so don’t bother bringing your hair dryers 😉 And by the way, plugs at base are type D (see http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity.htm for more details), so bring an adaptor.

The days are sunny and warm (25 deg) but it gets chilly once the sun has set. There will be a fireplace to sit around in the evenings, but (as per the dossier) bring an additional warm fleece or jacket.

I’ll let you have more details once we have moved into base.

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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)

We have spent the last couple of days scouring the ridges, hillsides and valleys. Nine camera traps are now in place, seven on the Talduair range close to base and a couple on Chickachova. It’s arduous work getting these camera traps out into the mountains, which is why you, our team members are so crucial. You could have gone for the cushy option of a beach holiday with a book, but instead you opted to come out here and help us research this mountain ghost and the tough habitat it calls home. All credit to you and thanks.

One of the Talduair cameras had fresh scrapes right in front of it, but then the camera did not work! Poor Jenny is tearing her hair out, but we are getting close. Our partners in the Altai, such as WWF Russia will be very interested in these news as Talduair is an area they are particularly interested in.

Oh, and by the way – THE WEATHER HAS BEEN GLORIOUS! We only have three days left with this group and we hope the weather will hold. Watch this space for further updates!

Glorious weather in the Altai
Glorious weather in the Altai

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

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.