Monday, July 10, 2017

Leopards in crisis - my comment on Pragati's article

My piece below is reference to the article written for Onward Nepal by senior environment journalist, researcher, colleague and friend, Pragati Shahi. Click on the title to read the article, go to Facebook if you wish to comment.

The article from Pragati pretty much sums it up but there's a couple of key elements that need to be added. In the main she has written what I've been saying for months, Pragati and I have spent a lot of time discussing it and she has accompanied me on call outs, conflict situations, she has a good understanding. So I write this as someone on the ground, someone who is investing time and money into these issues, someone who tracks leopards, digs holes, wires cages together, spends time with people seriously affected by the conflict, and devotes a big chunk of my life towards rehabilitation.
The first point is where is the public support on this? It's all very well continually blaming governments etc but the public, globally, have not given this animal a fair deal compared to so many other species. Believe me, as one of the small group of leopard conservationists around the world, we are pulling our hair out, wondering what we have to do make this wake up call happen while tigers, elephants, dolphins, orcas, rhinos etc get millions thrown at them. Oh there are a lot of promises from big orgs, individuals, lots of people with nice hair sitting behind desks, yes, it would be nice to have a dollar for every promise. As I mentioned recently it's been over a year since the plight of the leopard was made public after extensive research globally re habitat loss... and the response has been pathetic.
The second issue is this. Where is the word ecosystem from the nice hair people? I have banged on about this so much but the reference in the article to having protected areas misses the point. Ecosystems exist far beyond protected areas and the leopard is totally different from the tiger in that it is far more adaptable, the leopard is in fact one of nature's finest ecosystem engineers, as an apex predator it is an ecological masterpiece. It is not a National Park animal for tourists, it is much much more than that.
On International Day of the Leopard, Vidya Athreya will tell you why the leopard is so important. Vidya is in my opinion South Asia's leading expert, perhaps globally. There will be others having their say re wildlife crime, you will find out what is being done, how hard some people are really trying with minimal support. I hope the people with nice hair will finally listen...
I am close to finishing Phase 2 in the Leopard Rehab Zone (digging holes, tying wire, dealing with a very aggressive leopard) and then I will be in the middle hills investigating a man eater. I hope we can have things set up soon so we can extract man eaters and bring them to the rehab zone, then retaliation killings will decrease. People need to feel safe and by the same token leopards need help...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

#Coexistence - Living with wild animals... and love marriage...

"Something lurks in the night, I don't know what..." Actually a lot of the time I do, especially when elephants come this close. You can see by the date that Messi has been depriving us of sleep for a while now. With leopards, it's a little different and with a cat as big as the Boss it can be disconcerting when you check equipment and realize he was there not much earlier. It's all about food, with elephants you don't want to be in the way if they come shopping, with leopards you simply don't want to be the food...
Leopards are courageous but risk averse. Each leopard has a different way of operating, in the forest and near human structures. Nothing can ever be taken for granted, the learning is ongoing. I often get asked about leopard behaviour, the most common question being how big is their range? Well that's a bit like one Martian asking another Martian what do humans eat? It varies. There are so many variables in the way a leopard behaves, works its range, we still know so little.
Data helps tell the story, some of the time but it's important not to generalize. Sadly, some info we can make a sweeping statement on is something I touched on a few days ago, how leopards don't trigger the same response (interest) as the "hotshot" species. Today, after digging holes in the rehab zone I got back to some info re keyword response, and yep, it just confirms it, out there you're just not as interested in protecting the spotted cat as you are other animals. More on this soon, pray I'll be subtle, I may not be.
That is what it is, we get on with it, deal with it. I don't dwell on it when I'm in the jungle where due to the nature of my work I am often alone. So when I get back to base and have conversations with others of my species, well, being from a different culture, I get asked many things.
One topic that frequently comes up is arranged marriages which in Nepal are still the norm. There are more and more love marriages but it's interesting, the divorce rate here is very low. I often get asked what I think about arranged marriages v love marriages.
My standard response is "to me, both are quite dangerous."
Anyway, it's been a long time since I wore a wedding band (probably sold it to buy equipment for my work) so I'm far from an expert, probably know more about leopards (safer?) and I still have so much to learn about the great cat.
But all coexistence has challenges... that much I do know...

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tragedy in last few days as lives lost on both sides...

This post (as well as other updates not at this blog) is at Facebook if you wish to comment.

It's never ending. A couple of districts away a leopard dragged a 13 year old girl out of bed while she was asleep next to her mother. The leopard managed to get in as the door was open because it was a hot night. A screen door or electricity and a ceiling fan, perhaps the little girl would still be alive. That is the price of poverty. I’ve attended too many cases where poverty has been a factor in where children have lost their lives to leopards.
In the image the leopard was electrocuted possibly after climbing the power pole after being chased by a mob, that is what is being investigated. Leopards inspire fear for many people, once again mostly people who don’t have the resources to be safe.
The image is macabre but I see so much stuff like this I hardly bat an eyelid now. That’s not to say that the deaths of children and of leopards don’t move me, they do, it’s just that it happens so much. We’ve done analysis on the reaction to the image on social media, pitting the story against those where icon species had their plight shown. Needless to say the leopard story stimulated the least reaction. Fodder for my book I can tell you. The death of yet another child won’t bring a flood of messages either.
Back late yesterday afternoon after working in the leopard rehab zone I had to follow up two separate cases of leopard skin seizures in the last 48 hours, both along our latitude of terrain. Illegal wildlife trade, the trafficking of skins and other leopard body parts remains a constant threat. Once again, the anti-poaching effort and emphasis for other species gets support for these efforts much stronger compared to what the leopard and the people living with them receive. Overall human-wildlife conflict mitigation is deemed a much lower priority than anti-poaching, this is wrong, anti-poaching is sexy in the public eyes and many have been duped by ineffective programs. I write these facts from a little village fringing jungle, not a nice office or from a conference or lecture hall. I write these facts from the ground.
I need coffee, the bull elephant did not appear last night but we had to take it in shifts through the night to keep watch, Guruji, Manju, Ram and I, all bleary eyed and watchful. That’s the reality of human-wildlife coexistence. So that’s it from me for now, have to finish reports and then it’s off to dig more holes, twist more wire, build more enclosures… leopards and the people living with them can be protected, it just requires more effort.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

#Coexistence - Working together for a better world...

This post (along with different updates) is at Facebook if you wish to comment.

I'll explain more at a later date about the effort needed to get shots like this (dodging crocodiles, thank you Ram Shahi and family for the use of boat) but the dynamics of this herd of elephants are very important when it comes to the behaviour of the bull elephant which has been part of serious problems. The herd keeps the bull away in the main and are generally more passive. The people who are most affected by the bull are scared and hardly sleeping, it's a tricky situation and I have still not managed to test the tiger audio with a degree of safety.
The local elections have been taking place here, there have been divisions in a country which already suffers from that, it slows development dramatically. Fortunately there was very little violence and there are signs of more unity... but there's a long, long way to go before that translates into real progress. It can happen however, this country which is so important from an ecological angle, has the potential to build into something great, if there is more cooperation like the family group in the photograph.
I'm about to go to the rehab leopard, one of a species which is the epitome of marginalization, I feel deeply for these cats, they must wonder what the hell is going on. Surely the right of the leopard to coexist is exactly the same as the elephants in the image?... but the human world has become very selective on these issues.
Respect for all living beings can lead to a better world but we must all work properly for that...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Many thanks to those following "Living with Leopards" and other platforms...

This post is at Facebook (as well as other updates) if you wish to comment.

Many thanks to those following Living with Leopards and other platforms (don't forget @WildTigerNews). As was posted there yesterday the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE LEOPARD is making advances and there will be an announcement in a couple of weeks.
Those of you who follow my posts (and I thank you) know that there is serious concern for the lack of understanding and support regarding leopard issues in general. This has to change for the sake of the species. The leopard, by its very secretive nature, will never have the rock star status of species like elephant, rhino or tiger but there is hope that by targeting key people (Friends of the Leopard is another upcoming development) and particularly getting children involved that the future can be brighter for the spotted cat and those living in leopard habitats. A key to this is getting young ones to really understand ecosystems, something which is sadly lost on older generations.
My own days are busy within the elements of rehabilitation (including rewilding, reintroduction), coexistence and wildlife crime so I can't always reply to messages immediately but I always get there in the end, I just ask for patience.
I thank those who care, this is an extremely challenging time for many wildlife species but for severely persecuted animals like the leopard it's that much harder. They cohabit this planet with us, they have that right and the simple fact that as one of the great ecosystem engineers, we need them...
#ScienceWillWin #JaiChituwa #WeCanCoexist

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A year on since the report that the leopard is getting hammered...

This post is at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.

“The international conservation community must double down in support of initiatives protecting the species. Our next steps in this very moment will determine the leopard’s fate.”
This was a line from the report a year ago regarding the 75% habitat loss across the leopard's range. I've had some interesting responses regarding my posts (here plus extras at Facebook) on this issue in the last couple of days. Bottom line is the reaction to the problem since the report a year ago has been muted. There is a serious imbalance in allocation of effort re species. This will play out badly for the leopard and the people living in those ecosystems if things don't change. I'm a little tired of talking about it, I've got too much work to do on the ground but I thank those who have messaged, I'll respond to all when I can. Cheers Jack

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Elephant spotting... and leopard problems...

This post is at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.

Another long night and still not able to get into the right position to test tiger audio. I'll update when it happens but hopefully it will be another string to the bow.
It's about taking ownership of problems and dealing with them with focus. Re the elephant conflict there are good people coming on board and the Chief Warden has done a lot within his resource capacity. I'm looking forward to what Roshan can do next when he is able to give Bardia more time.
But that's elephants which are in the main a revered species. Leopards aren't held in the same regard, retaliation killings are a huge problem. Info yesterday about an attack on a man by a leopard in one of the areas I spend time worried me because I know the stress it will cause. The death of the 70 year old woman in Gujarat was all the more tragic because it could have been avoided.
My post below (which linked to the full post on Facebook) in many ways summed up the frustration at the lack of focus and support for the problem. I have contact with leopard conservationists the world over and we all lament the same problem, lack of support. This region here through the middle hill belt from central/west Nepal through Uttarakhand, UP and Bihar is the area of the most intense human-big cat conflict on the planet.
Above all this problem needs more passion and courage from the 3 sectors I mentioned in the post (Facebook) yesterday, that translates into care. More and more the line that the leopard could go extinct before the tiger is being vocalized but the response is mute.
I'm done talking about it for now. I'm pulling in good people with passion and courage, it is a time to let go of those without those attributes. As a species we're getting closer and closer to putting people on Mars, that's incredible, a testament to our ingenuity. But as wildlife conservationist I would like to see more support for the marginalized on our planet, the leopard and the people living with them symbolize that...