Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just keep away from my lunch and we'll be just fine bro...

Last one for 2014.  This is Asa on 25 December 2014 enjoying his Christmas dinner.  I like it when I make a special effort to make lunch and the eater is prepared to kill anyone/anything who gets in the way of his/her enjoyment of said meal :)  Leopards are like that.  I'm fairly certain I was the same when I was one year old. I've mellowed a bit now but just don't come near my momos (or coffee) ok.

This image is now available at www.mountaintiger.photography - your purchases really help the causes.  This post is a heartfelt thanks to those who have helped in 2014, it's been quite a year.  2015 looms large in the conservation world... wildlife, habitat and people to have improvements, positive futures in the way that nature works, chaos and harmony combined, to give us life.

Trek on.  Jai Bagh.  My best to all, cheers Jack.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Marking Territory"... and New Year's Best Wishes to all...

In the early morning light the young leopard marks his territory by scraping those razor sharp claws along the trunk of a fallen tree.  You can see his power now, a strength matched by the energy of a predator living free, wild where he supposed to be...

I've encountered Chituwa Asa twice in the last few days.  He is doing well.  In between times I've trekked long and hard, into valleys to understand yak pastures, onto a high ridge to spend an evening huddled by a fire while a local tells me of Himalayan Thar, Blue Sheep and Musk Deer.  My increasing understanding of predator activity is still dwarfed by the secrets of the mountains, some will be revealed, some not, keep an honest heart and let that be.

I visit a Health Post so as to learn. I talk to a man about his vision to plant the right crops that will strengthen a community and stabilize a deforested hillside.  I encounter someone from far away but close in understanding, we talk of wolves and things...

I buy a yak wool hat from a Tibetan refugee, she points out the holes in my boots.  "Yes, I know, I have been walking a lot" and she laughs, gives me butter tea, says I should have a rest.

I get back to the webbed world and there are lots of kind messages.  Photographs have sold and very kind contributions from people who believe and understand in the protection of habitat.  Thank you so much Bernd and Prajwol, exclusive images to you soon.

Not time to rest but maybe time for more tea.  Happy New Year.  Cheers Jack.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Good Morning, Namaste and Merry Christmas from the Himalaya...

It looks as if I'll be in Leopard Camp on Christmas morning so I'll say a big "have a good one" to everyone now.  Thank you for the wishes and support.  If I find Asa I'll try and post an image or two when I am back down in a couple of days.

The mountain is Annapurna South this morning.  I really like this hill.  I have been high on the ridge on the left hand side and hopefully in coming months will leave more cameras on unexplored ridges to find out more about Himalayan Thar, Blue Sheep and Snow Leopard, all part of the knowledge needed to increase protection of the area.

I met the young guy this morning after I had reappeared from the jungle where I was looking for big cat scat. He's a tough little kid, representative of the attitude here in the mountains where you suck it up and get on with it.  Health care and education are part of the conservation mix, my heart is very much with the people here as well as the wildlife in this demanding place.

I keep getting asked about video.  I'll repeat, can't do it sorry, you'll have to wait.  Upload speeds and other issues mean this is the case.  I have a lot of footage and when I show locals, trekkers etc there is a lot of wow... so when the time is right there will be some good stuff online.  Good people are helping with this.

Thanks to those who are using www.mountaintiger.photography to buy images.  It really helps and thanks for the feedback that it is working smoothly.  There'll be many more images in 2015, some special ones.  You can also buy the main signature image for the Asa side of things at www.wildtiger.org/mountaintiger

Ok, that's it from me for a couple of days.  Thanks for all the encouragement.  The young leopard and I are ready for the challenge of winter and as I say, nature will decide...

A big Kia Kaha, Jai Bagh, Merry Christmas and all that stuff... cheers Jack.

Monday, December 22, 2014

More camera trap images of Asa... UNESCO and a sanctuary for wildlife...

There’ll be more about the non-ganja influenced tiger sighting I was told about soon and thanks for the concern re my health in the previous post, don’t worry, I am very conscious of my proximity to Asa, there’s usually no problem except at feeding time and just sometimes I get close to observe and photograph because the zoom is interrupted by foliage etc.  Camera traps are such an important part of these projects, here’s just a few images from the last three days.  Setting them in the right places as well as making sure they are configured properly is labour intensive, not to mention the analysis of hundreds of images, something I’ll be doing during my down day today.

As you can see, Asa is in great condition.  I’ve mentioned before that I know every meeting could be the last and to be honest that is as much because of the threats to him as is full separation.  In saying that, at now about a year old Asa is showing great survival skills up there and in age is over a major hump.  The fact he has claimed the territory he is in speaks volumes.  Little is still known about the female leopard in the area, these things take time.

Territory is key for many reasons, I’ll elaborate on this soon but essentially my long term vision that part of the valley leading to the high peaks gets UNESCO status also means that it becomes a more effective wildlife sanctuary.  This is easier said than done, there are many issues and complexities.  The criteria is strict as it should be and sadly a lot of the obstacles are internationally driven, through stupidity.  There’s going to be some decent serves in my book, mark my words, some foreigners with really no conservation background pushing projects for gains of ego and dollars.  This will be stopped here and the model implemented beyond.  I am bloody determined about this.

At a local level there is a growing understanding as education improves.  A Nepalese friend last year described the country as a victim of kindness and this is true to an extent.  It is easy to hold out one’s hand, it is better to get that hand working and reap the rewards.  An attitude change is needed, corruption needs to be stamped on hard but these things are happening.  Last night a  long message conservation with an anti-poaching veteran, a hard but fair man, left us both optimistic... but that’s another chapter, hey I can’t tell you everything here, I’ve got bloody work to do!  The most important thing is that there are some excellent conservationists here, they just need to be resourced.  They are well aware of the mistakes the West has made and that some of the intact habitat here offers the last chance for many species, particularly mountain biodiversity.

This is a cause well worth fighting for, worth climbing steep slopes for, worth trekking hundreds of kilometres for...

Thanks for the support, hopefully a blog around Christmas time but be rest assured the young leopard is playing his part in making things happen.  Asa means “Hope”... yes, that’s true and hope leading to action means conservation success.  Cheers Jack.

That's close enough Kiwi... and a mysterious "tiger" sighting...

The camera trap image shows how close I can get to Asa when he is feeding but he will mock charge me from this distance.  This is natural behaviour.  Siblings, family members fight like hell when there is food around in all big cat dynamics and the fact I am not a big cat is important!  However, even though we have our moments of sheer angst Asa is submissive with me as his boss.  It's such an interesting thing, one minute he is snarling and dangerous, the next trying to lick my head.  I have many fantastic images, video footage and camera trap captures, the new strategy is working and the young leopard is in fantastic shape, very pleasing, I'll talk about this soon.

In the meantime, well, I get a lot of messages, calls etc with "I've seen a tiger!"... ok, tiger means many things here so I ask four questions:

Where did you see it?

What did it look like?

How big was it?

Do you smoke ganja? ADD ON QUESTION IF ANSWERED "YES" - How much?

There was a mysterious big cat sighting in the mountains recently.  I was assured a big smoke-athon was not taking place.

Watch this space...  Cheers Jack.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Images for 2015...

There's been a few extra posts at www.facebook.com/jackkinross and the galleries at www.mountaintiger.photography will be added to during 2015 to help fund our work.  Images of Asa, the Leopard of Hope, are already available at that site as well as how to make contributions at www.wildtiger.org/mountaintiger.
Asa has become increasingly difficult to photograph but I'll do my best to get something out before Christmas.  Cheers Jack.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Getting lost, communicating with the leopard in the wild while the snow changes everything...

Yes, the today photo is very bad but that's what it was like, snow, sleet, cold while the young leopard eats...

I didn't expect to be sitting here writing this tonight but the weather, well it's the Himalaya, have to be adaptable, do the whole change of plan thing quite a lot.

The leopard is the most adaptable of the wild cats, amazingly so.  There's no doubt this is part of the reason it is so persecuted and misunderstood.  The leopard has much less support, fewer friends than rock stars like the tiger and the snow leopard.  It is a marginalized animal which is deceasing in numbers because in so many areas of its range, from Africa to South East Asia, the leopard is not given full protection.

So while I was wandering around early this afternoon, lost in a rhododendron forest while snow was falling, the temperature dropping, looking for Asa, the said leopard was safely in the nook of a tree, warm and dry.  That being said, he did look surprised to see me.  I had given the special call, I saw a tree shake and the next thing Asa is peering round from the bottom of the trunk checking it is me.  He runs to greet me just as he did yesterday when the weather was fine with no snow.

The fact that I got lost and then somehow getting to that place without knowing Asa was there in that tree, in thick jungle, it's been like that for a while now, this communication between us, something I cannot explain and for now I don't really want to anyway.   There's no doubt leopards have some extraordinary abilities.  Only the cheetah is a faster cat and as well as being astonishing tree climbers leopards are great swimmers.  While little is known about the telepathic communication between family members it is known to exist, siblings understanding each other whereabouts while several kilometres away.

Maybe Asa is pulling me into his world.  Or maybe I am just waking up...

In the last post I mentioned my new feeding strategy.  It has gone well so far, in yesterday's easy weather and in today's difficult weather as you can see by the images.  I lugged meat in a drum from 2000m to 2700m, a lot of it in snow.  I will give more details about these tactics soon.

Tomorrow morning I head back up the valley, trekking for most of the day to retrieve cameras, then a long trek back the next day.  An unexplored ridge is drawing me, snow leopard may be there, perhaps Asa has told me this.


Today marks forty-five weeks this leopard and I have been together.  I have to do some serious fundraising soon, sell a lot of photographs, this has not been an inexpensive gig, far from it.  The learning, the progress, make all this effort worth it.  I understand more than ever that the leopard is a super cat, an amazingly adaptable animal... with other mysteries attached to it, unspoken ones...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter's icy chill, the aggressive side of the young leopard... and the urgent need for a Health Post...

When Asa eats a low constant growl tells me my presence is not required, well to put it more bluntly, this is leopard speak for “f... off” and when a leopard indicates this to you, it is best to take his or her advice.  The same goes with any big cat in the wild.  When I had an encounter with a young tiger cub last year, the showing of teeth and narrowing of eyes conveyed a similar message.  At the time my dominant thought was wondering about the proximity of the young tiger’s mother.  Just give them their space, it’s not rocket science.

Anyone who thinks this thing in the jungle with the leopard and me is one of those stories about man and beast having hugs with the music to Born Free in the background, well, sorry, you’ve got the wrong blog.  I’m sure you can still find that sort of stuff somewhere in cyberworld, you know, the tanned guy with the flowing long locks walking through the forest with his faithful, strong big cat.  But this, it’s more like me freezing my butt off with a leopard who sometimes wants to bite my face off.

In the image you see Asa taking a cold drink on one the icy mornings recently here in the Himalaya.  In fact, this was on the morning as described in the last post when the leopard and I went higher up into the mountain jungle and found sign of another leopard.  In the post I pondered if maybe Asa has a potential mate in the area we separated in.  I really don’t know yet, time and effort to find out will tell.

 Asa and I crossed paths again just over two days later he seemed really pleased to see me.

Then he realized I had food for him in my backpack.

At that point the whole dynamic changed.  Karate kicks ensued as I had to fight Asa off as he tried to rip the pack from me.  Believe me,  being attacked by a big cat isn’t funny.  Try and imagine what it is like being a long way from help with an animal which one minute is grooming you and then the next is as angry and aggressive as all hell.  The music isn’t Born Free.

I’ve learnt to manage these situations, thankful for martial arts training, kicks and punches obligatory when Asa gets really feisty.  From this point on I’m going to be employing a new tactic which I thought up a while ago but have saved to be the last (I hope) resort.  I’ll describe it in more detail once I know it works (I hope) but basically it will involve doing food drops, finding Asa and leading him to them.  Safety improved, I hope.  Overall it’s matter of being wary, and yeah, let the animal have space.  The jungle is their domain.

This tactic will also allow me to slowly lead Asa into the area that will be best suited according to all my research (about a billion hours) given the circumstances the leopard and I have found ourselves in.  Once again, best to write/talk about this once it’s underway rather than start patting myself on the back because it is far from a done deal that Asa will stay in the area, the decision on that in conjunction with the local human community is about two months away.

Asa’s behaviour when food is around is normal.  This is about an animal born wild, with wild instincts surviving in the wild.  It is not about hugs.  Neither of us hold any remorse after these altercations.  We have a strong bond, we do what we do.  A predator does not feel guilt, it cannot afford to.  Nor can I.  I have to do what is required to ensure my own survival while at the same time do my very best by an animal and a project I have made a commitment to.  As I’ve written before the jungle is all about eating and trying not to be eaten.  Time to inject another “I hope”...

There will be a lot more details in my book of how this part of things works with Asa and me.  Leopards are solitary but not asocial so Asa’s interaction with me fulfils a need for the young leopard.  I am sure I will be surplus to requirements when he his urge to be with his own species takes over.  This is of course the way it should be.  He is still much too young to breed so any meetings with the female leopard in the area may or may not go well.  Please don’t get mushy about this.  I’ve had several discussions of late about people’s interpretations, they range between mushiness and fear.  The reality is something in between, as I’ve written many times, respect.  This is the message that the young must get, the correct interpretation.  My kids get it, they understand.  I just ask that others think about this.

Anyway, speaking of health and safety I’m writing this from further up the valley where I’m sorting out a camera trap situation as well as talking to friends about how we can get a Health Post in Chhomrong.

Poverty really pisses me off.  Economic stability and ecological integrity go hand in hand now on this planet pretty much dominated by us.  The Government of Nepal doesn’t have much money.   The policy at the moment is one Health Post to each VDC (Village District Committee).   A VDC is basically a region, there are 75 of them spread over a national population approaching thirty million.

Do the maths.  It’s not good.

Many of the existing Health Posts are woefully under resourced.

Conservation in this part of the world is very much about the human relationship to the environment, habitat and wildlife.  Community conservation means village people looking after their backyard, a great responsibility and of course the fundamental human right to have reasonable health care in these mountain regions cannot be ignored.

So yeah, action.  This isn’t a “I hope”... it’s very much a “I will”...  There's a couple of microscopes available, a room, we can combine resources for wildlife research as well, there is momentum now, I'll have more info on this soon.

In two day's time I have a decent trek back to Leopard Camp and then beyond.  Once again, maybe I’ll encounter the young leopard, maybe I wont, let’s see...

Thanks for your support as always, it is appreciated.  Just don’t get too mushy ok,  keep it real, he’s a leopard.


Cheers Jack.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A fantastic few hours with the leopard... and has Asa found a girlfriend?

This whole thing is so fluid.  I never know what is going to happen next.  I love that...

Sexual maturity (Asa's that is, not mine) was always go to play a part in this rewilding experiment.   The last few hours may have just confirmed that.

I arrived at Leopard Camp mid afternoon yesterday, the sun already deciding to commit to its last rays.  I wasn't surprised to find Asa sitting on top of my enclosure (it used to be his but is now a tent in a cage) and he looked superb,  a strong regal young leopard.  We greeted each other with an ease and understanding born of how much we have been through with each other for over ten months now.  I had four kilograms of meat which Asa soon devoured but not so urgently that would indicate he was overly hungry.  I then watched bemused as some cheeky crows tried to steal the scraps which meant some very close encounters with an athletic leopard that made me laugh out loud.

Asa and I then wandered to a spot further along the ridge, the only place nearby where I can get a reasonable phone signal.  He sat next to me as the evening came in, there seemed to be a knowing about him and the comfort he took in our company combined with his strong confidence gave me a good sense of peace.  We headed back to camp and the role reversal that has been in place many weeks now of me being caged and the young leopard being free outside in the night jungle took place again.

It was a really cold long night and I was happy with the hint of light and steaming mugs of coffee in the pre-dawn.  It was the first time Asa and I had hunted together for several days and the half hearted efforts to catch a barking deer the night before, due to his full stomach, I knew were not a pre-cursor to these early hours of the day when his senses would be keener.

They were and so were mine.  Our early morning hunting expeditions have been times I will never forget, raw and primal.  Trekking through the Himalayan jungle with a leopard, as rays of light sift through ancient trees, it is truly being alive.  The sheer sharpening of the edges of one's being make all the physical efforts worth it.

We got to over 2800m in altitude and I could sense Asa being very content.  There has been more human movement in the jungle than usual lower down, a lot of bamboo collection.  Asa does not like this, it agitates him, he's never been overly fond of people.  This was the main reason I was keen to trek high this morning.

We came into an area of dense jungle, vines and thorns making the going not easy.  Like Asa I was enjoying it however, it is something we share, the more challenging the terrain the more we like it.  I was not surprised when the strong scent of leopard urine spray greeted me in a small gulley.  I wondered quickly if it was Asa's but his reaction with a low rumbling growl made me realize it could well be the signal from a female leopard we know has been in the area.  I searched for more sign and soon found scrapings on a tree at about a height which suggested a young adult leopard had certainly been there very recently.

Asa's interest was high.  His growling continued and he then wandered over to me bumping into my leg, his way of saying hello but also sometimes goodbye.  He then wandered off into the foliage, his wonderful languid big cat walk taking him into deep jungle.

He was gone.

These moments when Asa leaves me in these wild places fill me with joy.  This is exactly how it is supposed to be for a leopard, being free to decide his actions.  When I watch him move away like this, wild and natural, my smile on my face and in my heart is immeasurable.

I will return to the location in a few days.  Watch this space.  Cheers Jack.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rewilding a leopard - Logistical challenges but then good, very good people help out...

The first image (above) attracted a lot of attention when I posted it in different places a few days ago.  I will be writing more about the dynamics with Asa and I with regard to the rewilding process soon but for now...

...good people, very good people.  I've been delayed getting back to Leopard Camp because a series of events meant I couldn't get any buffalo meat to take up to Asa.  The feeding logistics have been tricky for the four months we've been up here, it's a 500m vertical climb over a few kilometres through mostly jungle each time, sometimes I'm there, back and there twice in some long days... but it has to be done.  There's no doubt Asa is doing his own hunting but at around a year old he still welcomes food from me which of course he would do if he had a real leopard mother.

Paras Singh and Raj Gurung really helped out today to make sure I will get some buff to Asa tomorrow.  It will have been a gap of four days since we have seen each other, that is of course if we do meet up, who knows.  I have to keep him lean, mean and keen... it is a vital part of the rewilding process.

So once again good people helped me out.  There are many, here and overseas who are showing such interest and support that although I'm often on my own in the middle of nowhere, sometimes with a leopard, I never feel alone.  My great friend and sometimes research assistant, Cecile from France, is dedicating several months to the project voluntarily, arriving here late February.  Cecile is multi lingual, knows how to live rough and will be a huge asset during those critical few months leading up to and maybe including monsoon.  Cecile is an example of the passion being shown for the project and the interest I am getting from organizations in different countries regarding the model and strategies I am using is heartwarming.  There are too many people to thank right here and now but it will all happen when it happens.  I do need to sell a lot more photographs and www.mountaintiger.photography is coming along, will be in full swing soon, linking from www.wildtiger.org as well.

My undying belief is that with sacrifice and hard work we can replenish nature, rebuild ecosystems, make things happen on a scale which benefits everybody and everything.  Rewilding this leopard called Asa is a step within that... and it is bringing out the good in people in many ways.  Thank you, cheers Jack.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gap of four days before seeing the young leopard in the jungle... and he looked strong...

Below are a couple of images I got during a two hour catch up with Asa in the jungle.  There is a bit more about this at Facebook and it's good to be able to report that the young leopard was strong, fast and confident.  I'll have a longer blog out soon to mark the ten month mark Asa and I have been together in this rewilding effort and in the meantime I thank everyone for their support.  Cheers Jack.

Now blogging at wildleopard.net - thanks for your support!

Many thanks to those who have been following this blog as well as prior to that The Asa Diaries and TigerTrek.  I'm now blogging a...