During the winters of 2012 and 2013 I spent a total of 10 weeks exploring a vast wadi system in the Dhofar Province of Oman; known as Wadi Sayq. The expeditions constituted the first two instalments of a series of scientific expeditions to Oman run by the British Exploring Society. Click here to find out more about the 2015 expedition. I was joined by different Omani and British team members each year but our mission remained unchanged; to capture camera trap footage of the highly elusive and critically endangered Arabian Leopard Panthera pardus nimr.
This is a true wilderness; silent apart from the sounds of the natural living world around us.
Spurred on by our success in 2012 we once again returned to Wadi Sayq in the far southwest of the Dhofar Mountains in Oman. Our mission – to build on the species inventories from the 2012 expedition.
Bat detectors, night vision binoculars, hand nets, butterfly traps, small mammal traps, reptile nooses, camera traps and an ultraviolet light trap were just a few of the tools we had at our disposal. After a day or two of adjusting to the coastal humidity (a stark contrast to the dryness of the desert), and with base camp constructed, we set off into the wadi system.
This year we had decided to break into three teams to increase our coverage of the wadi. Within 5 days we had deployed all 28 of our camera traps. Location, location, location is everything. We pulled in the help of the Al Hikmani’s (camera trapping specialists and Arabian leopard experts) to maximise our chances of collecting footage of the Arabian Leopard.
It was 10 days before we decided to check one of the cameras. It’s best to keep away from areas with active cameras to minimise disturbance to the large mammals – but for this camera, which was only a stones-throw away from base camp, we couldn’t resist.
Already we had collected footage of the Arabian Leopard.
We decided to camp out the following night close to where we recorded the leopard two nights ago. Taking it in turns, we stayed awake in 2 hour slots, with the night vision binoculars poised to our faces. Movement was spotted close to our tinned tuna bait, but it turned out to be a white-tailed mongoose – definitely worth the wait though – with the moonlight reflecting on the splashing waves and the buzzing of the grasshoppers; staying awake was definitely more rewarding than sleeping.
A few days later speaking to Sean (a member of the expedition team from GB) under an acacia tree on a grassland plateau, he told me of his most memorable wildlife encounters so far; spotting dolphins and sea turtles from the cliff tops, being at eye level with Verreaux’s Eagles and the feeling of being in ‘Leopard-country’ as we entered deeper into the wadi system. I admit, the last one is not so much an encounter as such but certainly a feeling enjoyed by everyone; a feeling of seclusion in a breathtakingly beautiful yet rugged environment.
Between the three teams we had revealed 83 bird species (several of which are of high conservation importance), twenty three butterfly species and 15 dragonfly species, fourteen herpetological species including a rare snake species; Thomas’s Racer, and captured an abundance of Arabian Spiny Mouse and Golden Spiny Mouse, an important prey species for large carnivores and raptors.
At the end of the expedition I sat down on the beach for several hours, with my head and the expedition laptop under a towel, and worked my way through the camera trap footage. We had captured footage of 10 mammal species – of which the Arabian Leopard footage was truly inspiring. There was an inkling this may be the case, when on the second to last day of the expedition a small team went to retrieve the last camera trap a short distance up the wadi – they came across what was left of a porcupine carcass. It was inevitable that our camera trap just a few metres away would tell us the story…