Friday, 27 February 2009

...and we're back again - briefly

I want a helicopter for my next birthday. Dawn has beautifully conveyed the intricacies of our journey to Shaksgam (or Raskam as the locals have it, and who am I to disagree) and our initial surveying efforts (thanks Dawn!). We managed to get reasonably far west towards the border, before the army declined us further access. Despite having all the correct paperwork and permissions on Monday, these were deemed insufficient by Tuesday. Some hurried, covert satellite phoning to higher authorities failed to resurrect our status (we're not waving our equipment around at army stations - there's a real danger of it being misinterpreted as not for snow leopard research, if you know what I mean). Even Dai Zhigong was denied further access to the SW of the reserve and he's the reserve director. He was giving the Officer in Charge a mouthful, when Shifu deftly entered the fray with his characteristic charm and cigarettes ploy, sensing that Dai was on the verge of getting us in trouble. My presence alone in this area was causing some agitation. Our friends in the State Forestry Administration claim they now know what further strings need pulling and are tugging at a higher level. Next time we will get even further, as I understand we already have hospitality sessions lined up with some military top brass when we return to Beijing. Yikes!

All was not lost - we have a good solid couple of days surveying near Shaksgam and then focused our remaining efforts in the SE of the reserve around Maraz and Kudi. Despite numerous blue sheep and a few ibex, there was unfortunately precious little sign of snow leopard. Reports from villagers emerging from the no-go area suggest there are snow leopards near the border posing problems for livestock. Conversely, in the vicinity of Kudi, to the east, villagers had never seen snow leopards, nor heard reports of them in the last 30 years or so. The wolf population, however, appeared to be thriving.

Despite the inevitable set backs and obstacles, we're all pretty pleased to have got as far as we did and get some valuable data from this difficult (in all senses of the word) region. We're now warming up and eating some nicer food in Kashgar for a couple of days before heading back into the mountains to Mariang. Hopefully here we will be able to verify our suspicions that snow leopards are active in the winter and also get some pictures with these damn heavy cameras. More lamb kebabs please!

Keep on the sunny side.


  1. Too bad about all the problems you've had so far. Hope Kashgar keeps you entertained and its food keeps you full. Are you able to post any pictures here of anything or anywhere you've gone so far? Sure would be nice to see...and link to.

  2. Thanks. Perhaps I've painted too gloomy a picture. I feel pretty upbeat about our progress.

    Some photos coming...