Update from our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with coral reefs and whale sharks of the Maldives (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

As the sun rises over this Paralympic city of London and my bag looks manageable, I hope your packing is going well too.

What's that pink thing on the left? You'll find out...

What’s that pink thing on the left? You’ll find out…

I am only slightly ahead of you and wish you safe travels. The weather looks like it’s going to be a mix of rain and sunshine throughout the week (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/1282027).

For those of you who may still be under the impression that you are joining a cushy dive holiday, I attach our draft work plan for the week. It’s a draft and Jean-Luc and I will see whether we can cram any more in when we meet later in Male’ 😉 As you can see it’s mostly survey dives, but we usually get in a few “lazy dives”, i.e. dives when you don’t have to fill in any datasheets. Please come rested and with your heads clear for all the Reef Check information we’re going to hit you with.

See you in Male’ soon.

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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)

Team 2 arrived on Sunday and after the training phase went out on Tuesday to set up eight camera traps. As usual we went through introductions, the equipment and the research background & goals before the whole team did their first forest orientation walk. The projector worked all the way through until the end of Alfredo’s indicator species presentation. Thanks to Tine (1st slot) the printer cartridges arrived at camp together with team 2, so that we were able to produce fancy identification sheets of monkeys, felids & terrestrial mammals for the field work.

Steering a canoe from the front was a new skill to learn for most of team 2. Peter complained that fallen trees, trunks and river banks decided to hit his canoe loaded with two passengers. Sitting in the middle Eva silently held on to her camera bag while Linda sitting in the back was commenting every crash with a shout. Laughs could be heard a long way up and down the river – no capsizing, though. Katherine and Herbert got the hang of it quickly – lucky me, as I was sharing their boat.

Katherine & Herbert canoeing

Katherine & Herbert canoeing

Over the last two days the team did survey walks on seven trailgrid transects and went out by canoe in the afternoon to do surveys along the Tahuayo river recording saki monkey, saddleback and mustached tamarin, titi monkey and some more non-mammal species. The Tamshiyacu Tahuayo conservation reserve is a biodiversity hotspot, but that doesen’t mean that indicator species to be monitored are seen easily! Again, Donaldo and Alfredo did a very good job by spotting monkeys yesterday while their teams did the measurements and filled in the datasheets. Full trained up, the girl power group of Eva, Linda & Katherine went ‘alone’ today while Peter and I teamed up with Donaldo.

On our night boat ride on Wednesday we spotted a couple of caiman just in front of our base, as well as various frogs.

This morning Linda left early to catch a flight. We said goodbye to her after another early breakfast at 5:30, but not before a team picture was taken shortly after sunrise (see websites below). Everyone else is now doing their final transect routes and collecting the camera traps that have been out for four nights. Watch this space for updates on what we have caught on the camera traps…

Left to right: Eva, Katherine & Linda.

Left to right: Eva, Katherine & Linda.

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

For our last few days the rhinos have been appearing for most of the groups, standing very close to one of the routes to a main waterhole. They are very calm and a joy to observe as we head out to our respective jobs. The elephants have also moved closer to camp and continue to entertain us with their disappearing acts. They have been observed eating and trying to knock down trees and have often been seen travelling on the tracks for some distance before walking into the bushes and vanishing.

Rhinos

Rhinos

We have seen quite a few juveniles of several species during this last week, the new-borns arriving with the spring here. There is a four-day old giraffe, several baby oryx that look like little fluffy cows (although I’m told that their distinctive long straight horns grow very quickly) and we came across a very calm sable antelope with three young on Wednesday. The acacia bushes are coming more into bloom and with the warm weather the spring smells are wafting over the savannah now. Flipflops around camp are becoming fashionable with a growing feeling that the cold has really gone for this year.

As the end of this slot approached a bottle of whisky appeared from John’s bag and the last three nights have produced an increasing number of tasters each time. We even managed to stay up past 22:00 on Wednesday night, pretty much unheard of due to the early mornings, fresh air and early darkness (06:00) in these parts. For our last evening we all headed out to find the ancient rock art that is marked on our maps as a little way NE of base. We had a wonderful drive as the sun was beginning to set and spent a relaxed half hour with the rhinos before heading up the slope to the East. We stopped in what we thought was the right spot, but only found a rare example of ancient Namibian invisible art. After some serious searching we gave up and had a sun-downer whilst Kristina gave us a summary of the work that has been done here. We all got back in the Land Rovers and headed back only to be stopped after a few minutes by Kristina declaring that we were at the right spot – after a very short search we found a fabulous drawing of an oryx and some hunters, well worth it. A shooting star lit our way home and the evening finished with Joerg giving us a great summary of the elephant research that had been done.

Many thanks to all in slot 2. It was a very memorable 2 weeks with some great work and lots of expedition spirit! I am heading home too so all the best to Jenny (Kraushaar) who will be taking over as expedition leader for the remainder of the expedition, and I hope that Kristina, Joerg, and the next teams have a wonderful and productive time.

Best wishes

Kathy Gill
Strategy Director & Expedition Leader

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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)

Team 1’s expedition ended with a great last afternoon & evening. As the river’s water level has dropped about one meter over the last few days, some of the local ARC staff went diving in the river trying to find Felix’ digital camera drowned on Wednesday during the canoe lesson. Surprisingly it was found near the gangplank and being put in the sun to dry out by overjoyed Felix. Klaus, Raphael, Sarah & Libby joined the refreshing bathing session. They only came out when caimans were spotted around the corner at the far river’s edge.

The kitchen staff surprised the team at dinner by serenading typical Peruvian carnival music playing drums and flute while Libby and Donaldo were dancing to the rhythm. There was a cake for dessert and most of us went out for either a forest nightwalk or a boat drive to explore the nocturnal rainforest wildlife one last time.

I have now waved goodbye to team 1 – thank you again for being great expeditioners, explorers & data collectors on our Peru project in the Amazon. Good luck & those of you who will travel on through South America, have fun, and safe travels back home everyone else. Hope to see some of you again some day.

Team 1

Team 1

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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)

We’ve had a very busy week with team 1 in the jungle. It’s gone so quickly and later today team 1 will leave. Here’s what happened over the last week.

After our Sunday/Monday training phase, on Tuesday (21 August) all teams went out to set up 8 camera traps at randomly choosen locations within the trail grid. The trail grid is our research area just behind the Amazon Research Centre (ARC), a 2 x 2 km representative area of the Tamshyacu Tahuayo Reserve including open and dense forest, palm swamps and higher ground that is usually not flooded during the rainy season. The area is surveyed from twenty trails cut every 100 metres through the forest. It’s a unique and amazing research tool in the Amazon.

Tine & Penny setting up a camera trap

Tine & Penny setting up a camera trap

On our survey walks we concentrated on spotting mammals such as monkeys, peccaries, coatis to name but a few. Known as a biodiversity hotspot, eleven different species of monkeys are known to be present in the area. It turned out to be a difficult task to find and identify them, though. Klaus and Felix were lucky enough to spot a coati twice. Teresa, Libby and Steve spotted an anteater sleeping high up in a tree with the help of Donaldo, one of the local guides. Tine spotted a single monkey taking a nap on a branch. Alarming her team mate, Penny must have suddenly interrupted his dreams so that he fell off his branch and ran away as fast as he could.

Larger groups of titi, capuchin and squirrel monkeys were seen by all of the groups, sometimes further away from the trails. We have all learned to walk very, very quietly during the transect surveys very, very early in the morning. After the first survey day on Tuesday, we shifted breakfast time to 5:30 and are leaving base at 6:00. The sun has been shining intensively, so that not only we, but also the forest animals become quiet and lazy during midday.

We have also done our canoe surveys up and down the Tahuayo river in the afternoon, coming across amazing bird life, but unfortunately no monkeys or other mammals. After dinner Alfredo also takes out a group of maximum three for a night walk in the forest. Bats have been seen as well a a tarantula, nocturnal frogs, leafcutter ants and many other smaller animals one would never spot during the day. Hopefully we will find more nocturnal felids on our camera traps.

Yesterday (Friday, 24 August) we did the last transect surveys and collected all camera traps on the way. It is a tiring job to walk the transects keeping ears and eyes open for 5 hours. Again, we left base at 6:00 in the morning to avoid walking in the midday heat. Temperatures slightly dropped after some light rainfalls, but were in the 30s again on Friday.

It was exciting to flick through the pictures of 8 SD cards. Funny faces, a jaguar named Libby and…. and a margay, a small felid. Other pictures showed fragments of other mammals identified by Alfredo as agouti. All this is a good result and Alfredo is pleased. Thank you team 1 – we couldn’t have done this without you.

Margay

Margay

Team 2, here’s an admin reminder. Assembly time is 9:00 on Sunday morning at the A&E office in Iquitos. A&E office staff will meet & greet you there and I will await everyone at the Tahuayo Lodge where we will have lunch before swapping to smaller boats and heading off for our research centre base. Please make sure you are on time; an A&E guide will be with you from Iquitos to the lodge.

Safe travels & see you on Sunday!

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Update from our SCUBA conservation holiday volunteering with coral reefs and whale sharks of the Maldives (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives)

Welcome to the Maldives diary. My name is Matthias Hammer and I will be your expedition leader for the Maldives replacing Kathy Gill. More information about me is at www.biosphere-expeditions.org/about > tab “Staff”.

I hope your preparations are going well and I look forward to seeing you in Male’ on 2 September at 09.00 in the lobby of the Nasandhura Palace Hotel. My Maldivian mobile (for emergency purposes only, such as missing assembly) will be +960 7570825. Because we have such great support from our Carpe Diem liveaboard team, I will only arrive a day ahead of you and set things up. I may write again before we all meet, but if not, I look forward to seeing you Sunday after next.

Safe travels.

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Expedition leader

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

With the freezing overnight temperatures continuing we decided to deactivate the box traps for a couple of nights. This was to prevent the capture of smaller animals that cannot cope with such low temperatures at times when they are usually in their dens. Thankfully this spell of weather has passed and the nights have warmed up again, so all the traps are fully operative. However, nothing to report in terms of captures. We have tracks of predators walking near the traps, but nothing has gone in as yet…

The elephant teams have been continuing their observations morning and afternoon and getting quite close to the animals now, something that we were unable to do in the first slot. This has meant some interesting feeding observations and also some reversing to maintain our 50 metre distance rule (we should not get closer than this for safety reasons) as the elephants are wandering towards us and have, on occasion, appeared out of the bushes at a closer distance, but always calm and relaxed. It’s amazing that such large animals can be invisible in acacia bushes.

Our waterhole counts have been interesting too – there are a lot of different species here, with everything from giraffe, to cavorting wildebeest and shy oryx, not to mention the donkeys who were a surprise to me. Due to the destructive nature of the elephants here, it is not sensible to build the sort of hides that you can find in Europe – nice wooden boxes for people to sit in with a window slit to look out of.  Unfortunately these don’t last long as the elephants can be very inquisitive and when they want to find out about something they investigate with their trunks and objects often don’t survive very long. So we use adapted bushes with enough foliage to keep people covered and just enough room for three people sitting on folding stools. These have worked very well in fooling one species – the elephant team spent 20 minutes in front of the newest hide doing their radio telemetry work and noting cheetah tracks before one of them followed some tracks right to the door of the hide and three laughing people. It has been more difficult to hide from the other species, most animals seem to know that we are there, often staring straight at the hide before drinking and going about their business. This month is known as the month of changing winds and we more than suspect that the animals can smell us (some team members even claimed to have had showers the same day so they don’t understand it). Our evening camp fire discussions over the last couple of nights have included a lot of debate on hide design – a portable, collapsible design seems to be the most favoured at the moment, but I think we will have a proper design competition before the end of the slot.

Giraffe at the waterhole

Giraffe at the waterhole

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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)

The ground is set at the ARC to welcome the first expedition team. Over the last few days Alfredo and I have worked on the datasheets and a weekly work plan including various tasks for each group. We went out for a night walk in the forest spotting a tarantula and more nocturnal animals, unfortunately no mammals, though.

Writing this I am waiting at the Tahuayo Lodge for the team members to arrive from Iquitos. All of them have made it despite late arrivals and cancelled flights from Australia. Once they arrive here, the rest of the day will be packed with introductions, safety procedures and background information about the animals and the research.

Tahuayo Lodge

Tahuayo Lodge

Having spent most of the time working on our computers and finishing preparations, Alfredo and I can’t wait to go out into the field.

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