From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (

I arrived at base on Thursday afternoon. It was a long drive of more than 1,000 km from where I started two days ago, with heavy snowfall most of the way through Austria and wintery driving conditions in Slovakia too.


Driving conditions in Slovakia

In Bratislava, I met up with Tomas, the expedition scientist. It was a brief encounter at a service station on the way to discuss preparations, logistics and permissions for the expedition vehicles in the Veľká Fatra National Park. The forestry department staff there have told Tomas that quite a few bears are active instead of hibernating, some even having young ones. Maybe we will be lucky!



By the way, the Veľká Fatra National Park National Park has a fairly active Facebook page (árodný-park-Veľká-Fatra-168367143242479) with some good pictures and videos of their trapping efforts, showing lynx, bears and wolves, amongst other species.

At base in Švošov I was warmly welcomed by František Pompáš, our host and owner of the house we will call home for the next couple of weeks. The welcoming drink offered was Tatra tea – a very special homemade refined vodka with honey, wild flowers and some other unfamiliar spicy stuff. Beware the Tatra tea!


Unpacking boxes at base

After tea, I spent most of the rest of Thursday unpacking boxes, writing shopping lists and going through paperwork.

It’s been thawing here, but there is still now on the mountains. The forecast ( is for more thaw and rain for a few days, followed by a drop in temperatures and snow.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (

Hello everyone and welcome to the Slovakia 2017 expedition diary.

My name is Malika and I will be your expedition leader. It’s been seven years since I led this project and I am really looking forward to returning to Slovakia.

In a few minutes I will be leaving from Höchberg in Bavaria, Germany. I have packed items such as GPSs, binoculars, paperwork etc. from the stores into three boxes; the rest is already in storage in Slovakia.


Today I’ll drive for seven hours or so to Vienna, and tomorrow another four to our expedition base in Švošov, where I should arrive around noon on Thursday to set up. Tomas, the expedition scientist and his assistant Noro will join me on Saturday morning.

From what we’ve heard from our partners on the ground, the study site is covered in snow – good conditions for our surveys. Keep your fingers crossed that the temperatures will stay low enough to get more snow instead of rain.

I hope your preparations are going well. I will be in touch again once I have arrived at base with updates from the site.

That’s it for now – I’ll keep you updated.



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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

So the expedition is over. Our scientist Greg summarised the results for us this morning.

We found 168 known fox dens and discovered 19 new ones. On our circular observations we counted 104 oryx, 77 Arabian gazelle, 4 sand gazelle, 140 palm trees, 843 ghaf trees, 28 acacia, 12 Sodom’s apples and a whopping 8000 or so broom bushes. The random observations yielded 31 bird, 11 mammal & reptile, 11 insect and 15 plant species. The 18 camera traps took 16247 (!) pictures, 13000 from one camera photographing moving tree branches or something similarly exciting :), but also of course a variety of species.

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Our live trapping was unsuccessful this year, but if you don’t try, you don’t get. Who knows when we will get the next sand fox or Gordon’s wildcat. We’ll keep at it.

So all that remains is for me to thank the team again for all its efforts. Thank you Jörn, Karin, Jörg, Sigi, Kathie, Albert, Jim, Martina, Yvonne, Samar & Laura. You could have gone to the beach for your holiday, but you chose to help Greg here in his beautiful office. I take my hat off to you for this and I hope you will come and join us again. Thank you Amadeus & Tessa for being the kind of staff that makes Biosphere Expeditions what it is. And thank you Al Maha and Platinum Heritage for your support. And thank you Greg for letting us share your office and vision.

Farewell everyone, safe travels home and I hope to see you again someday, somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours.


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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

It’s already Friday and the team have worked really hard. For the first time ever we will manage to cover all cells of the reserve this year. That means 63 circular observations, some of which require quite some trekking through the beautiful dunes to get to. As you walk through this amazing landscape, you often wonder how anything can survive, let alone thrive here. But it does, thanks to the hard work of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve staff, and especially Greg and Tamer, who we have the pleasure and privilege to support here. So as you walk, you come across fox dens, sand fish, gazelles flitting about between the dunes, oryx standing majestic on their crests, old date palm plantation swaying in the wind and the sun painting the dunes in a million hues of red, yellow and gold.

It also means six live and 18 camera traps out between the dunes, vegetation surveyed and dens accounted for.

Our days are full and the nights are now colder. The cloud has passed and the wind has lessened, so for the past two days we have experienced the desert as we expected it in our heads. Hot and with blue skies over a sea of sand.

On Wednesday night our routine was broken courtesy of Platinum Heritage Luxury Tours & Safaris who took us out on a beautiful sunset drive in some vintage Land Rovers and then treated us to some Arabian hospitality, food and an astronomy lesson under the night sky. Thank you for this!

As I write this, teams are coming in from the field with SD cards from the camera traps, live traps and the last lot of data for Greg. I will write more once the preliminary results are in tomorrow


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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

It’s Wednesday and the expedition is in full swing. All camera traps are out, as are the live traps. We have four teams in the field, working for around six hours each day. We’ve had wind blowing the sand in our faces, overcast days and sunshine, even some rain at night at base camp. The team is doing well and we are on target to cover all our research cells by the end of the week and finish all the tasks that Greg has set us.

We’ve counted hundreds of oryx and gazelles, thousands of ghaf trees and broom bushes, seen beautiful Pharao eagle owls swoop up in the air on their silent wings, a red fox flitting across the dunes, a red streak against the wavy ocre of the desert, agamas burying themselves in the sand, gerbils racing for their lives in a white dash across the tracks, and the sun set and rise in all its fiery beauty as we get on with our jobs.

We have covered countless kilometres all across this beautiful reserve, crunching sand and gravel under our tires, without getting stuck yet, due to some very good driving skills. Two more days to go. Thank you to the team for working so hard!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

It’s the morning of day four of the expedition. After a day and a half of training, the team did well to start collecting data on day two. By now all camera and live traps have been set and we are working our way around the 63 circular observation points (15 done already), filling in the random observations sheets (sightings thus far include Arabian oryx, Arabian and sand gazelle, Arabian hare, Arabian toad-headed agama, eagle owls, francolins, larks, shrikes, wheatears and more) and counting vegetation (lots of broom bushes, Sodom’s apples and ghaf trees) and fox dens.

We get up before sunrise, are out as the day dawns and back as the sun sets in an orange orb over the desert. Our camp in a ghaf tree grove echoes to the sounds of turtle doves who call this little oasis their home too. Yesterday we braved the winds and sand to push on with our work despite the stony grains crunching between our teeth. Last night it rained, but this morning looks calm and rosy as the morning rays bathe the sky in a pink hue over this beautiful, calm desert bubble, not far from the bustling machinations of commerce and development in Dubai. The food al Al Maha is great and since an army marches on its stomach, this army of citizen scientists is marching well.

Starting today, we will be checking our live traps daily (and the camera traps at the end of the week), continue to tick off circular observations (basically sitting on a dune and counting animals and vegetation for 30 minutes), check more fox dens and count other species of interest as we criss-cross the reserve in four teams all day.

More soon.

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

We’ve arrived and we’re unpacking, shopping, setting things up. The food that Al Maha kindly provide for us is great. The sun is shining, it’s warm during the day and not too cold during the night to sleep under the stars (but there are plenty of tents too).

Today we are working with Greg on the research side (I hope you’ve read the 2016 expedition report to set the scene for you) and tomorrow we are tying up loose ends. And then we’ll see you at the right place and time on Saturday morning. Safe travels to get you there.

In another piece of excellent news, we’re a finalist for the 2017 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards! That in itself is another great feather in our cap. Now wish us luck for the final round, which entails an assessor joining our team for the week, who will take part in the expedition as normal, as will a journalist from National Geographic, and they will both want to talk to the rest of the team, so be nice to them please 😉

See you soon!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (

Hello and welcome to the first expedition diary entry of 2017, for our Arabia expedition to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR). I am Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, and also your expedition leader for this expedition. Other key people are Greg Simkins, head of the DDCR and also our expedition scientists, as well as expedition leaders in training Tessa Merrie and Amadeus DeKastle.

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And then of course there’s you, the expedition team. There will be a full complement of 12 of you from the UAE, UK, USA, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as well as a journalist for National Geographic Traveller and an assessor from a major travel award, which I can’t tell you about yet, since there’s a news embargo until the shortlists are officially announced on 16 Jan. But suffice it to say that it’s great just to make it onto the shortlist, which in itself is a major feather in our awards cap.

But enough of this for now. Let’s focus on you all getting there and the work ahead.

I hope your preparations are going well and you are starting to get excited. Tessa and I will fly from Norwich in the UK via Amsterdam to Dubai on Tuesday and set things up with Greg, Tessa & Amadeus. Amadeus will be coming from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and you will all be coming from Europe, the USA and the Middle East.

Once we are all together, we will follow the recommendations of the 2016 expedition report, which was published at the end of December. Do have a look at this to be prepared. The methodology we will use and the skills you will need are explained in the report and there is also a YouTube playlist with it. We will follow the cell methodology, use camera traps and GPSs, as well as binoculars and spotting scopes. You might also want to watch some sand driving technique videos on YouTube; there’s plenty of them and this is a good skill to have too.

I’ll be in touch again from Dubai (then also with my contact number there). Good preparations and safe travels. I look forward to meeting you all.


Matthias Hammer

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa (

Here are now the highlights of the photos and videos you all shared (thank you).