From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Welcome to the first entry of our new Tien Shan snow leopard expedition. My name is Matthias Hammer and I am the founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions. I’ll be with the first group, start this diary off and then hand over the baton to expedition leaders Ronald Seipold (groups 1-3), as well as Paul O’Dowd (groups 3-5). More about us, as well as our expedition scientist Dr. Volodya Tytar, is at http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/about.We have all been very busy getting this trailblazing expedition ready for you. Ronald, Volodya and I will make our way to Bishkek on 1 June and set things up for you there and in the field. As you can imagine, setting up a new expedition is a heck of a lot of work. We’ll do all we can, but it’s essential that you come with an expedition, not a holiday, attitude. Please expect the unexpected and be prepared for things to go wrong and all of us having to help (each other) out whilst having a laugh about it all. In return you get the bragging rights of having been on a real trail-blazing expedition into the wilds of the Tien Shan mountains, not some cushy wildlife tour in an air-conditioned bus. Talking about tours and/or safaris, if you are hoping to see a snow leopard, please make sure you visit your local zoo (see http://www.snowleopard.org/find-zoos-with-snow-leopards). As I am sure you’ve understood by now, seeing a snow leopard is not the be all and end all of our expeditions by any means. We’re focused on the research and gathering data for conserving them, not on taking pictures or seeing them with our own eyes. Personally, I don’t get the obsession with seeing something yourself anyway. Isn’t it enough to know you are in snow leopard habitat and working towards protecting this and its flagship species? But that’s another story we can mull over by the campfire soon….

Onto the research. We’ve put some resources of maps, datasheets, field guides, a methodology manual, etc. on https://app.box.com/s/xzi0d9dln6flh6bvnrt2 for you. A map of our study site including the cells we’ll be working in/through is at http://goo.gl/maps/oBIPN. “Cells” I hear you ask? By way of explanation we’ve put a video of our methodology below for you as well.

It would be great if you could watch the video and use the resources provided to do some studying before you arrive. We’ll hit you with lots of information in the first couple of days and the more you’ve swotted up on things beforehand, the more you will remember, and the more useful you will be in the field. The datasheets and methodology may be confusing to start with, but if you read up now, we can explain things in the field more easily if you come with some background knowledge already.

Once you’ve seen all the materials, including the itinerary, all your last hopes of a relaxing holiday in the mountains with snow leopards dancing around base camp whilst you sip your martini outside your luxury tent should evaporate like the tufts of cloud whisking around the peaks of Ala Archa national park 😉 …. only to be replaced by the knowledge that soon you will be part of something genuinely new, important and useful in snow leopard conservation in Kyrgyzstan. And what, I ask, has more value? You could have opted for a beach holiday. Instead you are going to spend your time and money helping Volodya and our partners NABU out in the field. Thank you – I take my hat off to you for that.

That’s it for now. We’ll be back in touch with updates to the resources and from Bishkek when we get there. We hope your preparations are going well – do find some time to read through the materials we’ve made available.Best wishes

Matthias

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

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