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Applications are now open for our Maldives expedition placement programme. We are looking for committed Maldivians who want to make a difference to their local reefs. See www.biosphere-expeditions.org/placements for the application process and http://biosphereexpeditions.cmail1.com/t/ViewEmail/j/462E9D91EA76B3CA/0A63559D8192B3FB0F8C96E86323F7F9 for a success story. The Maldives placements are kindly supported by the The Rufford Foundation​ http://www.rufford.org.
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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Posted on 21/06/2015 

Here, at last, is the diary for slot 1 of our Tien Shan expedition. We could not get it to you because there is a big mountain range blocking the sat phone signal in the south. Calls can get through, but data can’t. Since this mountain range is unlikely to move over the next couple of months, please assume that field updates will only come every two weeks, as we switch teams and go back to Bishkek. Unless we haul the sat phone up the mountain with us on one of our surveys. You never know ;)

12 June (Friday)

A collective sigh of relief could be heard last Monday, when the team left Bishkek. The city heat – temperatures beyond 30 degrees – were happily left behind as was dust and heavy traffic. Snacks were picked up in a supermarket on the way and the convoy of three cars stopped for lunch when the tunnel was passed at 3200 m altitude. Overall it took us about 7 hours to get to base camp, so teams 2 – 4 please be prepared for a long journey.

08:00 o’clock. It’s a fresh and clear morning. The warming rays of sunlight haven’t yet made it over the eastern ridge sheltering base camp, nestled in a small side valley of the Karakol river. We’ve seen all four seasons since team 1 arrived four days ago. Rain made us seek shelter in the mess tent for the first expedition day’s training sessions, while the surrounding peaks were covered with a fresh layer of snow. Carolyn, Susan, Theresa, Charlie, Robert and Thorsten learned how to use GPSs, maps, compasses and radios, went through safety briefings and off-road driving lessons. After a practice survey walk with the whole team including Volodya, the scientist on this expedition, as well as Shailoo and Aman from NABU’s snow leopard patrol, and Kathy, one of Biosphere Expeditions’ senior staff joining the first slot, they have now all left camp in smaller teams for today’s surveys.

So far eleven cells have been surveyed in two days in Choloktor and Chon Chikan valleys. I will be talking a lot about cells – a grid of 2 x 2 km laid over the study area map in the Tien Shan mountains divides the terrain into these cells, which will be surveyed systematically.

No camera traps have been set yet. Snow is still covering the most promising spots. Over the next few days we’ll continue to explore the area hoping for a lot of sun to melt the snow away. Findings so far were wolf scat (a lot) and an ibex skull and horns, a red fox and marmot were sighted as well as quite a few golden eagles, just to mention a few.

P.S. Please remember to bring insect repellent, there are some mosquitoes around ;)

15 June (Monday)

We’ve continued exploring the valleys around base camp. On the third survey day, Susan, Robert & Theresa went together with Aman to the other side of the main valley and up the mountains we look at from base. The day’s motto was “slowly, slowly” since everyone was feeling a bit worn out after three days of going up and down lots of hills. Not so Aman, who was briefed intensively the night before about what “slow” means to us. ;) The second group consisting of Volodya, Carolyn, Charlie and myself walked up what the locals call the “boar stream” pretty close to camp. We’ve crossed alpine meadows, scree fields and climbed up rocks before reaching the ridge at 3792 m altitude. Most animals signs such as ibex scat, argali footprints and snow cock scat, feathers and dust holes were found within the rocky habitat well above 3400 m. Further down, abundant marmot holes were spotted, a big colony of them must once have lived there.
  
The weather changed overnight from sun to rain and wind. Leaving Carolyn & Charlie, Susan & Robert behind, two cars left camp in the morning for a shopping trip to Suusamyr. Not a quick one since the town at the entry of the Karakol valley is about a 2½ hour drive away. The tasks on our list were: 1) buy bread, 2) buy milk and 3) buy a chimney for the yurt stove. Doesn’t sound complicated at all, but we failed with two out of three. Instead of milk we could have bought a great variety of vodka (even from the smallest shop) and for the chimney a local herder suggested to go back all the way to Kara Balta close to Bishkek on the other side of the Kyrgyz Alatoo mountain range. But bread we got! And also a taste of yoghurt cakes, a local specialty recommended by Emma, our cook. But to be honest, this was probably the most disgusting flavour Kathy, Torsten and I have ever tried. I guess you can also tell that from Torsten’s face on the picture. 

At breakfast this morning our hopes for better weather seemed to be nothing but wishful thinking. But just when we decided to stay half a day at camp, the sun came out and everyone was ready, dressed and packed up in record time for another survey walk. This year’s first interview was held with a very friendly herder offering Kathy a ride on his horse, which was thankfully accepted ;) Being a cattle herder he didn’t have any problems with snow leopards in the past, not even wolves because the cattle can defend themselves. A woolly ball was brought back to camp and analysed during the review session after dinner. We learned that these remains are produced by birds of prey regurgitating bones, feathers and other parts of their meal that can’t be digested.

16 June (Tuesday)

The sun laughs at us again! It’s been a clear night, the water drops on my tent were frozen this morning. Everyone is excited to finally go out for an overnighter. Camp is as busy as an ant’s nest. Emma is preparing food boxes, Aman and Shailoo are preparing cooking gear and packing up cars, everyone else is gathering equipment and packing their sleeping gear. Kathy and I wave them goodbye as they leave. We will go through some re-org in the next couple of days.

18 June (Thursday)

SNOW LEOPARD TRACKS! The overnighter team is back, exhausted, but thrilled about two exceptional survey days and a “night out”. The camping spot was chosen close to the mountain pass connecting the Eastern and Western Karakol at an altitude of 3500 m. Still partly covered in patches of snow and therefore not crossable for herders and their livestock from the Eastern side, this area would be worth a check before the cattle, sheep and horses will move in for the summer. Well done, everyone! The snow leopard tracks found were not fresh, but still clear enough for identification without any doubt. Two camera traps were placed, now everyone is hoping for some good results.

20 June (Saturday)

Slot one is ready to leave base camp. We did a reccee walk yesterday researching more overnighter possibilities in order to reach more promising rocky mountain areas at the far end of some of the valleys. Aman has suggested we follow an old track leading uphill over grassy hills not knowing where it would lead us to. So we drove as far as the cars would take us and continued on foot split up in two teams. An old herder’s place was found – an optional overnight camping spot close to a mountain stream. A badger was spotted as well as ibex far away on the rocky peaks of the mountain range. It was early in the afternoon when we returned to camp leaving us some time for final checks on the cars, the tents, the equipment and a detailed review of the results of what the team has achieved over the last two weeks. 26 cells have been surveyed – an impressive number considering the small number of citizen scientist on the first slot. We’ve spotted or found tracks of all snow leopard prey species such as ibex, argali and marmot. Tracks and scats of wolf, fox, badger and snow cock were also found and quite an impressive number of different bird species is already on the bird list, which will be continued until we leave in August. But most excitingly the presence of snow leopard was proven by tracks. This success was celebrated after Volodya’s review and another delicious dinner with quite a few toasts and some local vodka.

21 June (Sunday)

The first two weeks of this year’s Tien Shan expedition went in a flash. While Carolyn and Charlie will stay for two more weeks, I had to say good-bye to Kathy, Theresa, Sue, Robert and Torsten after a final dinner in Bishkek. Thank you everyone – you’ve been a special and a great team! Thanks for putting your time, sweat, mountaineering expertise and excitement into this project. Safe travels back home. I hope we meet again some day in the future!
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Listing of our Australia marsupial expedition (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/australia) within larger family travel piece > https://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/images/stories/pdfs/media/wa-travel+leisure15.pdf
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We don't often get inspired by TV, but this one is worth watching....http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05yt1c4/chris-packhams-natural-selection
Chris Packham and two of his heroes discuss art, television and communing with a gorilla.
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Nice camera trap shot of a leopard roaming our study site in South Africa. Come and join us there (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/southafrica). Only four places left on the 4 - 16 October group. 
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The Siberian tiger population continues to rebound, according to the latest numbers from the subspecies' stronghold in Russia. Ten years ago, conservationists estimated 423-502 Amur tigers in Siberia. But last month, the Russian government and WWF said numbers had risen to 480-540 tigers, including an estimated 100 cubs.
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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)

Posted on 29/06/2015

Ramadan is upon us and the expedition is taking a break. But the work does not stop.

Febri has published a preliminary report for the first three groups. It’s available via https://www.dropbox.com/s/qv9c94tasksgm1z/Short%20Report%20XPDC%20RimbangBaling%20Slot%201%20-%203%20WWF-BE-KKB.pdf?dl=0. The report is in Bahasa, but a translation of the summary is below. It’s a Google Translate, so by no means perfect, but you get the gist. Of course an English report will be published after all six groups have been this year.

Franz, one of the journalists on the first group, has also just published an article in German broadsheet FAZ. This is at http://www.faz.net/aktuell/reise/blutegel-und-giftspinnen-tigerjagd-in-sumatra-13664512.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2. And we’ve already told you about the article in South African Wildside magazine, but here’s the link again, in case you’ve missed it https://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/images/stories/pdfs/media/su-Wildside15.pdf.

Groups 1 – 3, we hope you have good memories. Groups 4 – 6, we hope your preparations are going well.

==============

SUMMARY

Rimbang Bukit Bukit Baling landscape is a priority landscapes the Sumatran tiger conservation efforts (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and has been included in the Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL) so getting global attention to the conservation of endangered species. Constitute lowland rainforest hills that keep diversity high biological as well as a water tower for dozens of counties underneath. This landscape is also populated by people who are still use natural resources wisely. Because of its potential high, one of the activities that are very relevant to be applied in this landscape is activity-based biodiversity and ecotourism local culture. WWF – Indonesia, Biosphere Expeditions, and Groups Work Batudinding work together to initiate tourist activities. The second component is based on the locale. With participants are foreign communities of various continents in the world, citizen scientist become the focus in this ecotourism activities. This activity is titled expedition tiger Sumatra held throughout the 6 (six) slots each – each two week of the month from May to June 2015 and from July to September 2015. Scientific Aspects become the main focus in the implementation of this expedition where we have a goal or a big goal because research on tiger expedition Sumatra is a crucial activity that through this activity able to provide a lot of information related to tigers and is also related with their biological information for conservation and management Rimbang Bukit Bukit Baling landscape. Initial results on the 3 (three) slot tops the period of May – June 2015 that it had conducted three core activities, namely survey both signs of the existence of wildlife as well as the installation of a camera trap, survey of social aspects related to the protection and human-tiger conflict, and environmental education at several elementary and secondary school level. This activity has a positive impact on wildlife conservation efforts as well as habitat, empowerment of local communities, as well as the development of activities ecotourism special interest in landscape Baling and Bukit Bukit Rimbang surroundings.
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LONDON EVENT TONIGHT

We're meeting in the 'Spying Room' of the Morpeth Arms, 58 Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RW.

Join us there - it's not too late > www.biosphere-expeditions.org/events.
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ANOTHER ACCOLADE: Biosphere Expeditions makes it into the "Top Ten Ethical Operators" of the very comprehensive voluntourism survey of Dutch newspaper "Volkskrant" > volkskrant.nl/vrijwilligersreizen
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Vrijwilligerswerk op reis is een groeiende vorm van toerisme. Ruim 7000 Nederlanders voornamelijk jonge vrouwen boekten in 2014 een vrijwilligersreis.
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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Posted on 15/06/2015

We’ve had a call from base camp. They are having trouble with the satellite connection. They can phone us, but the data connection for diaries and photos is not working, so this is just a short message to say that everyone is safe and doing well. We’ll send a diary entry as soon as we can, but it may only be at the changeover 20 – 22 June.
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From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)
Posted on 12/06/2015
We have now retrieved all camera traps. Not far away from one trap, the team found civet scat and tracks. This is a fantastic finding but of course everybody was anxious to see if there was also a civet trapped on the camera. Unfortunately not. But again mouse deer, wild boar, porcupines, macaques, great argus and even pangolins romped around in front of the traps. The tiger, too, remains hidden.
Jatt, Anh and Ryan started their overnigher in the rain north of the last village in the reserve, Ludai Dusepakat. A new dirt road, about three years old, gives the villagers better access to the outer world. The result is obvious: plantations all over and more logging. Very hilly landscape and dense forest made it difficult for the team to cover ground. Nevertheless they found sambar deer scat and tracks as well as a muntjac tracks. Well done. Before their return, they conducted an interview. Interesting is the fact that the villagers speak their own local language. Interviewees reported an overall decrease of wild cats in general, but in December 2014 a tiger was reputedly heard close to the village. In what way this information can be trusted is not clear.
Thursday to Friday night heavy, heavy rain poured down for more than 12 hours without a break. As we came down to the river this morning to start our return trip to Pekanbaru, we could not believe our eyes: the river level had risen so much that the “jetty” of our Field Station had disappeared – all steps were completely submerged. Nevertheless we made it back safely and almost dry.
Two more weeks have gone very quickly. It was a hard slog sometimes, so well done everybody. Thank you for the very constructive discussions and your contributions.
We realise that elusive tigers is frustrating and that the effects of all our hard work may not be immediately obvious, especially if you do not come across our main target species. But we ask you to be patient. This is our first year in Sumatra and, as we say in the Reality Check, science is not safari and the planet will not be saved on a single two-week expedition. Instead it takes years, sometimes decades, for conservation successes to establish themselves and take a firm hold.
For example, we spent ten years working in the Altai, researching snow leopard presence, building local capacity and trying to create economic incentives for local people to keep their snow leopard neighbours alive. When we started, there was no national park, little awareness, research or infrastructure, and rampant poaching (I am sure this must ring bells with you in Sumatra). Now we have a national park, national park staff, anti-poaching patrols, several research initiatives, much more awareness and many ways for local people to benefit from the presence of the snow leopard. Poaching continues to be a threat, as is the Altai gas pipeline, but all in all this is a remarkable turnaround and success story, and we are very proud to have played our part in this. We’ve had many successes through citizen science voluntourism over the years (see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/achievements) and the Altai is yet another excellent illustration of how citizen science-led conservation expeditions can make a genuine difference.
We all hope that in time, Sumatra will join this list of successes. Please do not underestimate your contribution, even if you did not find tiger evidence on your group. You already know how underresourced Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve is and how difficult it is to make a living through anything but plantations, logging or otherwise environmentally harmful activities. Running the expedition to this remote place for three months makes a big difference to the rangers, public perception in the area, especially how the tiger and nature is perceived, and so many more things besides. Do not underestimate the effect the expedition has on these levels. And in time, as we build our networks, we will get deeper into the forest to protect the tiger and its habitat. Thank you for being a part of this process.
Finally, I would also like to thank all the team for your supported and commitment throughout. It was a pleasure and fun working with you. After Ramadan, Anthony will take over from me as an expedition leader. I wish slots 4-6 the best of luck.
Stay sharp …
Ronald
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A listing of the Musandam expedition within a larger voluntourism piece has appeared in Austria's economics magazine "Trend" > http://issuu.com/biosphere-expeditions/docs/mu-trend15.
Listing of Musandam expedition within larger voluntourism piece
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ADVANCING WILDLIFE CONSERVATION - FOR NATURE, NOT PROFIT
Introduction
Biosphere Expeditions is an award-winning not-for-profit conservation organisation, and a member of IUCN and the UN’s Environment Programme. For us successful conservation is the collective effort of individuals. We invite everyone to join us on our wildlife and wilderness projects all over the world. Whether young or old, become a citizen scientist for one or two weeks, or more.

The foundation of our work is science and local need. We focus on sustainable conservation projects that target clearly defined, critical issues that humankind has the power to change. International volunteers work hand-in-hand with local biologists and communities to drive positive outcomes for biodiversity - the creation of a protected area for snow leopards in the Altai is just one recent example.

Biosphere Expeditions is a member of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum. Achievements include the implementation of our conservation recommendations and species protection plans by numerous national and regional governments and NGOs, the creation of protected areas on four continents, scientific and lay publications, as well as capacity-building, training and education all over the world.