James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

Empty Quarter Expedition: Kit

An expedition doesn’t start in the field. It begins months (probably years) before with hushed conversations, excitable research and lists, lists, lists jotted down on scraps of paper everywhere.

I love lists, they keep my mind organised. I think they make the biggest challenges seem quite achievable, after all, if you can break it down into bullet points and squeeze it onto a sheet of paper then it can’t be that hard.

After being lucky enough to get involved with the Empty Quarter Expedition one of the most important (and longest) lists in my life, became our inventory of science equipment. We’re heading out to Oman by the kind permisson of the Sultan with the aim of establishing the presence of the Arabian Leopard, a cat that is thought to number less than 200 individuals in the wild. In addition, we have a whole host of other research planned, with studies focused on birds, reptiles, cave art, dragonflies and more. As such, good science equipment is a must.

Here’s a run down of the most important items on the list:

  • Books, Books, Books – A favorite, right after lists, lists, lists. Good field guides are an essential for any expedition.
  • A Toughbook Laptop – A wonderfully ultra-tough computer. They withstand all the trials of expedition life in environments that aren’t normally very kind to electronics. This is where we’ll store all our data.
  • Solar Panels – Unfortunately there’s no mains power in the desert, this will help keep everything going.
  • Camera Traps – We have 17 of these wonderful pieces of kit. They can be left for up to three weeks, turning themselves on when triggered, to take photo’s or even up to 60 seconds of video. This is our most valuable tool in searching for the Leopard.
  • GPS – Allowing us to map all the areas we search.
  • Drift Fence and Pitfall Traps – A simple and effective way to survey reptiles.
  • Binoculars – For undertaking bird surveys.
  • Small Mammal traps – To catch those elusive little critters. By seeing what species are present and their abundance we can also learn about the predators in the area too.
  • Insect Nets – I’ve got an excellent assistant scientist, Lawrence Ball, whose going to be undertaking a very important and detailed dragonfly survey. Many of the species in the area are very poorly documented, Lawrence will try to correct this.
  • Specimen Jars – Just as in the UK Tupperware is an indispensable part of life, so too on expedition, an array of pots and jars are essential. Here we will be using them in particular to collect Leopard scat samples to send for analysis.
  • Plaster of Paris – An unusual item, yes, and no it’s not a request from the expedition doctor. We’ll be using this to take casts of any exciting prints we find, this way we’ll have a record which will help us compare them to each other.
  • Bait – On this culinary adventure there are two concoctions on the menu. Oats and vanilla essence for small mammals, and a rather awful mixture involving eggs, yeast and milk for carnivores. By raking an area of sand smooth and leaving a little of this smelly liquid, we can come back later looking for prints to see what might have investigated it.
  • A Sense of Humor – essential on any expedition kit list as nothing ever goes exactly to plan.

I hope I haven’t forgotten anything!

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Our expedition really needs your help. Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve £2 a month, instead we’d be really grateful if you would follow our progress on the BSES blog here!