Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

We all went out into the national park today to set up some camera traps. There is a dusting of snow up in the mountains – enough to detect animal tracks. The foresters reported wolf tracks to Tomas only minutes ago by text message. Whilst in the national park, we placed a camera trap next to a fresh carcass of a red deer we found in the middle of a forestry road – killed by a pack of wolves. At the next turn of the road we found a huge track that must have been made by a massive bear.

All very exciting. We look forward to you helping us to find out more.

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

All set and leaving tomorrow.

Video of Astrid, as promised/threatened, below

Weather update on http://www.gismeteo.com/city/weekly/23199/.

The next update will come from Slovakia…

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Hello everyone and welcome to the first entry of the 2014 Slovakia diary. We’re Peter Schuette, your expedition leader, and Astrid Callomon, your assistant expedition leader. At the moment we are busy preparing the paperwork and all the little things that need to be done before we head off to Slovakia in six days. On Sunday we will meet Dr. Matthias Hammer, Biosphere Expeditions’ executive director to pack up all the gear and then drive to Vienna go collect three Land Rovers kindly provided by Land Rover Austria for the expedition. Then we’ll also meet Tomas, our scientist, to drive on to base in the Velka Fatra. Tomas was there for a recce two weeks ago – no snow, but temperatures are dropping, so keep your fingers crossed for some good tracking conditions.

Maybe – for your personal preparation – you’ve already had a look at the 2013 report just published. If not, have a look now to get a feel for what you will be doing and why. If you want to get an impression of what it will be like on the ground, then why not look at the old diary at https://biosphereexpeditions.wordpress.com/category/expedition-blogs/slovakia-2013-expedition-blogs/ or the expedition summary video below

If you want to ‘meet’ Tomas before you actually meet him, have a look at this

Peter is here

Astrid is our new kid on the block, expedition leader in training and assistant leader to Peter, so no videos of her yet (but we will soon fix this). More about her is on www.biosphere-expeditions.org/about > “Staff”.

Peter’s mobile number will be xxxx (to be confirmed once it’s switched on an working by next Tuesday). Astrid’s number should be xxx. Remember that both are for emergency purposes only (such as missing assembly).

We’ll be back with updates as we pack up and leave. We hope your preparations are going well too. Safe travels and see you in Slovakia!

Peter and Astrid

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Overall we have had a very successful week in the desert and Steve the scientist is really happy with the data we have collected; particularly gazing at oryx bottoms to score their body condition while they are feeding – and of course the fox jackpot. Each individual oryx of twelve herds has been scored and the team members will all bring back hundreds of photos of oryx backsides! Six months ago the feed was increased due to the poor condition of the oryx. Our preliminary results of the expedition show that they are now generally very healthy and well fed.

Health oryx (and their bottoms)
Health oryx (and their bottoms)

Last night we enjoyed dressing up for an evening at the bar of the Al Maha Resort with drinks (and desserts!) It was well after bedtime by the time we returned to camp (at 22:15), so we had an extra long lie-in until 07:00 this morning : ) It seems like we had only just set up camp when it was time to break it down again.

A big thank to everyone on the team – so much can be achieved in such a short time with so many eyes and ears. Research like this would not be possible without your contribution!

Eyes & ears
Eyes & ears

Another thank you goes to Starwood Group for supporting conservation by making sure we were well fed (like the oryx).

Safe travels to everyone for their onward journeys, we will be on our way back home on Monday and will be in touch with a link for everyone to share their photos. Hope to see you again some time somewhere!

Malika and Kate

Team 2014
Team 2014

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

What day is it again today? Western timings have lost their meaning out here in the desert. It is day four of our expedition and everyone has passed an intensive training regime on the research equipment, data sheets and dune driving.

Training
Training session

Apart from the Biosphere Expeditions participants, a number of rangers from our partner Al Maha resort also attended our training sessions to get an insight into conservation work on Sunday.

Al Maha rangers with expedition scientist Steve Bell (left) and expedition leader Malika Fettak (right)

On Monday, we set ten live and nine camera traps, started the health assessment of Arabian oryx through body condition scoring and our vegetation survey of the DDCR within our 2×2 km quadrants.

Oryx body scoring
Oryx body scoring

Tuesday we hit the jackpot, a lucky day not only for our scientist Steve. Why? Because we caught a sand fox in one of the traps! These tiny big-eared foxes are one of the rarest species in the area. A maximum number of twenty are estimated to be present inside the Dubai Desert Conservation reserve, an area of 227 square kilometres! Its mass is no more than 2 kg. We captured an adult male of 2+ years. Tricia, Branko, Yvonne and Martin were the lucky team members attending the procedure of sedating, measuring and micro-chipping him.

Sand fox in the live trap
Sand fox in the live trap
Measuring the sedated sand fox
Taking a blood sample from the sedated sand fox

Of course, the catch was the story of the day today when sat around the campfire for the daily review. Trevor, together with Kate and Branko comprising today¹s northern team, reported excitedly about “his” bird encounters and how he finally got to see three Macqueen bustards in the wild. Thrilled as he was he even tried to communicate in Arabic with some farm workers showing around a self made drawing of an eagle owl in order to find out whether they might have seen one. Spotting an Arabian red fox made Mark¹s day – another lucky encounter on a survey walk through the sand dues, even though he keeps on saying that he is not a good wildlife spotter 😉

Around the campfire in the evening
Around the campfire in the evening

Everyone has settled well into base camp, experienced refreshing showers in the afternoon, freshly cooked vegetarian dishes for dinner and early breakfast at 6:00. Work starts as the sun rises at around 7:00. The weather has improved and there has been no rain for the last couple of days. But after the rain, the desert is bathed in oranges and reds at sunset and the dunes reveal their full beauty in the early morning hours shortly after sunrise. It’s a magical place we are working in!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

The sun has returned to the DDCR and looking at the long-term forecast it is pretty good apart from the chance of some showers over the weekend. We have replaced the old worn-out tents with new fully waterproof ones so there will be no worries about kit getting wet.

It has been really busy in camp today with the DDCR staff fitting solar electrics, Steve the scientist moving in and sorting out camera traps and the cook setting up the kitchen all at the same time. Our cook for the week works at the Al Maha Resort (who are supporting the expedition by providing all our food and the cook) and he specialises in vegetarian menus.

From now on vehicles will not be allowed in the area where you can see them on the photo and camp will become more peaceful. We have been unpacking and checking all the equipment today – only a few days to go now…

camp2

This morning there were lots of oryx tracks about 10 m from my tent where a group had passed during the night, so they are obviously not concerned by our presence. After the rain on Tuesday the wildlife is looking freshly washed and the sand tracks around the reserve are a little easier to drive on.

Tomorrow we will be doing last minute preparations and we look forward to meeting the team at 08:00 on Saturday morning!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Malika and I (Kate – assistant leader) have now been in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) for two days unpacking and sorting out all the gear and equipment and setting up camp. The photo of camp was taken yesterday soon after we got here – it will look a little different when we are properly set up ready for the team’s arrival.

Arabia camp

Malika was surprised to see that the view from camp had changed dramatically since last year; Sheik Mohammed (the Chairman of the Reserve and Ruler of Dubai) has a long-term vision, which includes planting native tree species at various sites throughout the DDCR, one of which has been chosen just to the north of our camp. It is really good to see conservation in action and the site has been busy with DDCR staff for the last couple of days putting in the final few trees and some irrigation, but they should be finished by the weekend. We will learn more about this from the DDCR staff in our briefings about the work here.

We have already seen quite a number of the study species and had a few Arabian gazelles wander curiously up to camp to check us out. There is also a group of oryx in the area near to camp that we have seen each day.

We have also been privileged to experience the first rain this area has experienced for over five months! I took the second photo this morning on our way to go shopping to replace worn out kit – a good way of avoiding the heavy rain showers. In case we are fortunate enough to experience this rare event again remember to pack a waterproof!

driving to Dubai

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Hello everyone and welcome to the first diary entry for Biosphere Expeditions’ 2014 Arabia desert expedition. My name is Malika Fettak and I will be your expedition leader.

mf

I am about to leave Germany, arriving in Dubai a few days ahead of you to get things organised on the ground. Kate Fox, my assistant leader, will be flying in from the UK to shadow me as expedition leader in training. All going well we should meet at Dubai airport tonight, spend a night at the Premier Inn in Silicon Oasis (our meeting point), take over one of the expedition 4×4 vehicles on Monday morning and then proceed to the DDCR. There we will meet our partners on the ground Greg Simkins, Steven Bell and Pete Rosenschoon from the DDCR and start setting up base camp, organise a cook, food, equipment, you name it.

But enough of that for now. I¹ll send some pictures once Kate and I get there. Start getting ready for lots of sand, sun and some tough work with Steve, Pete, Greg, Kate and I. We are all looking forward to working with us for a week in the desert! Have a look below for what awaits.

Safe travels and see you in Dubai!

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

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