October 3, 2011 | By Donna Evans
I decided I would like to take a volunteer vacation related to wildlife and found the award winning company of Biosphere Expeditions. They offered many unique opportunities to aid in counting animals and helping with research. After reading about their trips and what they were doing, I only had to narrow it down to which was the perfect expedition for me.
I wanted something exotic and unique in a place I had not been and an experience that was out of my comfort zone. CAMPING – tracking the Arabian leopard in Oman! Perfect. Camping? I love luxury accommodations and spas and amenities. Camping? Camping was totally out of my comfort zone. After thinking this over for a couple of weeks, I applied to be on the expedition.
The Dhofar region, where the expedition took place, lies in Southern Oman. It is a vast mountainous area with the largest town being Salalah, about hour from the wadi where our camp was and where we called home for 2 very long weeks. Camping!
The beige of the desert with the sand and rocks tumbled over one another above the dried river beds, (called wadis), has a barren look when you first gaze upon it. This is typically what you think of when you think Arabia. Flat. Sand. Miles and miles of sand. But Oman also has miles and miles of unspoiled, undeveloped beaches. And high mountains, coral reefs and tropical habitats. They say the leopard still survives here, too. As you “live” there (camping), you notice the canvas of dusty tan becomes beautiful while watching the colors change and the shadows move.
My expedition and journey into the Dhofar Mountain region was very surprising. I had high hopes of seeing the elusive leopard and was willing to put myself through the pains of camping to do so. I was trained, along with 7 others, to use a personal GPS, a compass, and to map coordinates. We had to change a tire on a Land Rover (pairs of 2 did this on 4 vehicles). We hauled heavy containers of water. We used a trench as a toilet and showered infrequently to save the precious water. We hiked endlessly into barren regions in extreme heat for 8 or more hours per day, finding few traces of wildlife. We noted scat, tracks and gun shells in our journals as we trod on looking for any sign of the elusive Arabian leopard. (There were no signs. And we were camping.) We were excited when we saw a gazelle occasionally. We ate dal. We drank tang. We slept in tents in sleeping bags. We wore our dirty clothes too long and did laundry too little. We were disappointed, but we were happy.
I am a better person for doing this expedition. I learned that we take all our creature comforts for granted and that we are spoiled, so spoiled. I learned that there are so many people who love animals and want to help preserve them for other generations. I learned there are more vegetarians in a group like this than carnivores. I learned that we are one world when you have people from several different countries working toward a common goal, no matter what their languages.
I learned that having a small herd of camels wander into our camp for some water was one of the highlights of my trip. (Finally, we saw wildlife!) We smiled and enjoyed them as they drank from the bed of the truck where water had spilled and drank from the water where we washed our hands. They stumbled clumsily around our camp and tents. They drank all they could find and then they left.
The resounding take-home from this trip was what I learned, not the disappointment of missing the elusive Arabian leopard, the flagship animal of Oman.