Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tension builds as large male leopard visits the camp while Asa journeys to live at new height...


This is the second of two rants parked at www.wildtiger.org/jackkinross  If you've been following this thing it's probably the most important one to read.  Thank you for your support.

I always felt this moment would come.  I couldn't be sure of course but based on leopard scat found over the last six months there was every chance that the large male leopard would be back.  There's a saying we all know that there are moments when you find out who your true friends are.

There have been indications that a young female leopard has shown tolerance to Asa's arrival.  The stance of the large male is yet to be seen.  In many ways this shapes as the most pivotal few weeks of the whole project. Another four to six weeks of winter adds to the situation.  It's just a few days now off a year that Asa and I began working together on this mission and I knew it wouldn't be easy.  That's been confirmed big time but I still feel hope we will have a successful rewilding.  Asa is still young but has proved he can manage, he just needs to show he can hunt large prey successfully.

I came down to the village late yesterday, a couple of days earlier than I expected but with a plan to head back to Leopard Camp as soon as possible, that I'll be doing in a few hours.  Tomorrow I'll leave the camp and make the long journey up to over 3100m in the hope of finding Asa in the area I led him to just two days ago.  That was an epic day, it needed to go well and it did.  The young leopard and I found each other early and a few hours later crested the high ridge, the massive bulk of Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh highest peak, showing itself in a type of daunting splendour.  Even Asa seemed taken with the view.  The leopard had been a good companion on the way up despite being distracted by the fact I was carrying a decent load of meat in the plastic drum.  Every few minutes he would put in a big hit on the drum, knocking me over several times on the steep slope.  On two other occasions he jumped onto my shoulders and just sat there.  I had to wonder if it was all real, I was alone on a steep jungle slope in the Himalaya with a leopard perched seemingly on my head.

Hang onto your hat.

I left Asa at a new feeding point, the highest one yet by far.  I felt pleased that he was now a very good distance from a group of woodcutters.  The altitude and cold made it seem like it was a place made for a Kiwi and the Leopard of Hope.

But would the visiting large male leopard come calling?

In the image you can see Asa aggravated because the drum lid stayed on during the journey.  After some scouting around I removed the lid and Asa didn't hesitate to attack the drum with gusto.  He did however, show remarkable tolerance to me being close.  The whole way up it had seemed the bond between us was even tighter, it was as if the young leopard knew this was an important time.

I moved as quickly as I could down the mountain.  My feet were freezing.  There had been a fresh snowfall, enough to make footholds a little easier but it was cold.  The new snow had also made the way down through thick bamboo confusing.  I got hopelessly lost and ended up climbing out of a steep gully clinging to icy rocks and bamboo shutes where they'd hold me.  I managed to make my way to two cameras and another drum at a previous feeding point.  These positions are important because the cameras tell me how often Asa visits a drum thus I can understand if Asa is hungry or maybe getting enough food through his own hunting.  Very valuable data.

I picked up gear and carried on down towards Leopard Camp.  I wanted to set cameras in new places as the big leopard had deposited scat just twenty five metres from where I slept at the camp.  It was on dark when I finally crawled into my tent, exhausted.  It had been a big day.  Night time is not the right time for humans to be roaming in this jungle and it was cold.  My four season alpine sleeping bag has served me well over many years but I still needed to wear my down jacket to help me through a fitful sleep/non-sleep.

Snow and ice greeted me as I drank coffee early the next morning.  I tracked the visiting leopard to a place close by and then thankfully down into the valley where the snow had subsided.  The leopard had triggered a camera but there was frustratingly no photograph.  In the image you can see I'm examining a narrow path where it looked like barking deer had moved very quickly, maybe chased by a large predator, you know who.  Interesting, so damn interesting.

I made the decision to set cameras, do some work around camp and head down to the village before dusk.  So here I am writing this the next morning as I add to my journals and prepare for the next few days.  It may be a little while before I blog again.  Future leopard teacher, Bidhya Sharma, a fantastically loyal helper from the beginning, will leave a comment on the thread of this blog on Facebook to say that I'm ok.  Rarely a day goes by without a txt message or phone call from Bidhya asking "how is Asa?"  Contact is limited up there, very little signal and the occasional phone call and txt message is the way it works.

I'm behind in communications and thank yous while this goes on.  The support has been fantastic in many ways.  I've got photos to send out and there have been a couple of issues with the www.mountaintiger.photography site re the resolution of some images but in the main in it's going well.  A big thank you to Andrys Basten for pointing out a few bugs, I'll get those sorted out soon.

Andrys also asked this question on a Facebook thread: "...how do you protect yourself if you chance upon the big male leopard (in, currently, his territory) while going up to leave Asa food?"

Well the short answer is that I carry a big knife and a big stick :)  I've been Asa's training dummy for so long now that I have a fair idea how a leopard attacks but yeah, I will answer this question better down the track.  The bloody book has a fair bit devoted to what it's like being alone up there.  However "territory" is something we still know so little about particularly in regards to leopards.  More on that soon as well.

There is a kind of joy in the village now in regards to the project.  There had been a certain amount of fear and apprehension, of course that is perfectly understandable.  It is now six months that we have been on the mountain and the curiosity from the locals has turned into a type of pride.  There are lots of funny moments when I see kids, a lot of laughter and growling.  People are understanding that this project is already a success because in the long run it is helping in the overall goal of increased conservation status for the area.  Sure, there have been sceptics from all walks of life but I don't give a rats arse (those who know me best are allowing themselves wry smiles right now) because the positive far outweighs the negative and I actually feel sorry for people who don't believe in "giving things a go"... more wry smiles :)  As I wrote in the beginning, you find out who your true friends are.

To see Asa sitting in a tree, free, the way he's meant to be (yes, rhymes intended) is proof enough that rewilding is a way forward, a chance to put right some of our wrongs when it comes to environmental issues. There's a lot to be sorted out, a lot more that needs to be understood but what I do know is that this young leopard has been a gift to us all.

Jai Bagh.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Future leopard teacher and wildlife protector... and another leopard roams nearby...


The little guy standing next to the yeti (yes, I get called all sorts of things) is Utu.  He is the son of Paras who those who have been following this blog will know is the Chief Conservation Officer in this part of the Annapurna Conservation Area.  Utu has been visiting from Kathmandu for the past few days, he's a great kid who when at home doesn't bother with cartoons, he watches Animal Planet, just like his dad :)

Paras is a highly committed conservationist and there's no doubt it is rubbing off on his son.  Before we had met Utu had nicknamed me the Leopard Teacher and he was pleased when I told him that I thought that one day he would be one.  I have every hope he will follow his father's footsteps into conservation.

In about an hour I head back into Asa's territory and will attempt, using the food drop strategy, to lead him into an area we have scouted but not spent a lot of time in.  It will be at around 3000m in altitiude and it will be cold but Asa  has shown he is adept in the snow, his speed not seeming to be affected at all.  I am making sure as best I can that the young leopard is as far away from a group of woodcutters in the area for maybe another three weeks.  This is something I will write about more in the future and will feature in my book strongly.  The issues of conservation policy and long standing forest use by indigenous cultures are key in the future of protected areas.  The relationship between humans and wildlife habitats in the context of sustainable use are of the utmost importance, already Paras is explaining this to Utu.

There is another visitor in the area.  A large male leopard has made his presence felt and known.  Perhaps he is looking for the young female leopard I had sign of a few weeks ago.

Perhaps he is here to claim territory.

Before Utu left for Kathmandu with his father yesterday morning I quietly told him that another leopard may not like Asa being in the area.  I explained to him that this is the way nature works and that while I would do what I could to help Asa, a leopard teacher is not a leopard even though the teacher must often try to think like a leopard.

I could tell that Utu was trying to grasp this... as I am.

But it's every pint sized kid in every country that needs to know this stuff, in both developed and developing countries.  And here in mountain areas that means schools... and that means Health Posts... it's all connected and it's the responsibility of all of us... that cartoon on my Facebook page a few posts back, it's there for a reason...  Conservation is totally connected to these issues.

In a week's time it will be one year since Asa and I met, a day when I made the immediate commitment to help the leopard cub.  I'm pleased now that Asa is free in the mountains.  He lives wild.  To be wild means a life that could be taken in an instant, a much more dangerous life than those animals that live in cages.  It is however a real life and however long it is, in this case, a magnificent leopard has an impact on a lot of people.  He has certainly changed me and made me realize more that even after years of trying to protect and understand big cats I still know very little.

That's it from me for a few days.  A big thanks to those buying photographs, you are making a difference and I appreciate the support coming in any way.

Who knows, the next time you see me I may be wearing new boots.

Jai Bagh.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The intensity of the leopard encounter and the complexities of establishing territory...


You can see in Asa's eyes that things are a certain way now.  I took the image four days ago and today our encounter was similar, there is an edge that when I close my eyes and think about it, it is hard to conjure up words it is that intense.  Shortly after this moment Asa took a swipe and the alloy trekking pole I fended him off with snapped in half.

With ease...

After the attack I had to make sure Asa knew that I was still in control which I am.  He understood.

I have now manufactured a sturdy wooden staff.

I do write about it and when you read the bloody book (you will buy wont you? I have to eat...) it will make sense in the overall context.  There are many elements that I have given up trying to make sense of, often telling myself that rewilding a leopard in the Himalaya just is what it is.

At the moment my life has phases of complete isolation in the jungle combined with complicated discussions with locals about the issues here as well as those days when I drop onto major trekking trails to get to places I need to be.  I've just had a couple of days on a main trekking route, a lot of it with a group of very nice people of different nationalities.  Yesterday, on my return the issue of mountain safety was strongly apparent, again.  I spent a lot of it helping people through tricky icy areas, they were under equipped, inexperienced and most unfortunately ill advised leading into the trek.  This has to change and while it will be a progressive thing, it will change.  Mountain knowledge is in many New Zealander's DNA and is part of the conservation framework because it has to be.  Working through the challenges here in Nepal, alongside local conservationists is something I enjoy.

Back into Asa's territory and the isolation, until that moment the leopard appears, sometimes shooting down a tree, sometimes exploding through the undergrowth.  Before our encounter today I used as much stealth as I could to position the food drop and cameras.  It worked well and I then tracked Asa before giving the special call I sometimes use.  It is more of a whisper but if the young leopard has not already sensed me this signal often works.  As I've mentioned before the way we communicate and find each other is something that the wild has manufactured, it is simply our way.

The meeting was good.  We were happy to see each other.  I kept things short and Asa found the food quickly.  I moved away, dropping into a gulley of deep snow.  As he sometimes does Asa suddenly appeared, another short meeting, a type of goodbye, as I led him back to his food.  There was another moment of tension as Asa did not want me within even fifty metres of the meat.

The leopard is telling me this is his place now, I am just a visitor.

In two days time I will continue the strategy as there is still the need to lead him deeper into the jungle, higher and up over the ridge.  A recent email from a colleague regarding the latest developments in the illegal trade of leopard skins was still fresh in my mind as was the issue of illegal tree felling and milling.

Yeah, there's a lot of stuff going on, a lot to do.  The thing is, the leopard is strong, we are getting through the winter and while outcomes are unknown, especially in a place like this, there is hope...



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Political insecurity causes unrest at a time when conservationists must stay strong...


I'm just getting ready in the pre-dawn for the long trek ahead into Asa's territory and back down.  It's a food drop, camera trap check and of course time monitoring the young leopard.  It's important to move quickly and get back before the temperature plummets.

More disagreement between political parties has meant outbreaks of violence and uncertainty.  It is imperative the constitution is written and approved soon.  It is a process that has continued too long.  From a conservation standpoint it means staying strong at a local level, calm is needed.

Thanks to those people who have read my posts from yesterday.  Support and new developments are heartening.  I'll blog again in a few days with news how WildTiger is instigating a proposal to have this area recognized by UNESCO most likely in the form of a Biosphere Reserve.  This is something I have been researching and working on for around four years now.  The news a few days ago that the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has a five year extension certainly aids this vision.

This area is a stronghold of the Gurung, a proud mountain people.  My good friend Najar Man Gurung has been a most helpful colleague in my study.  Najar has also been a driving force in the approval of the new Health Post in Chhomrong, a positive development again showing how strong community action can still make gain while the uncertainty at national level continues.

The Gurung have long been the mainstay of the Gurka regiment, world renowned soldiers.  These tough men have served with loyalty for many years and I have found that in these mountain communities they have a strength I can rely on during testing project work.  There is also heart and kindness and at this point I also want to thank Bel Bahadur Gurung, his family and team for their support in Ghandruk especially when I return from long stints with Asa.  The remarkable Jagan Gurung is another who has provided great support over the years.  Jagan has done incredible work for women's empowerment as well as environmental issues with her efforts being recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Commitee.

I'll be talking more about the Gurung and conservation at ground level but it's important to note that while political infighting continues and unfortunate consequences such as continual strikes and violent outbreaks result there is at the local level the resolve to keep things going in as peaceful manner as possible.

I briefly attended a Gurung wedding a few nights ago.  Most of us were in down jackets to ward off the cold but warm spirit was reflected in the way that the father of the bride, Man Prasad Gurung, had invited people of all castes to be there.  This is the type of thing that gives hope for a one day unified Nepal and bright hopes for this beautiful country dominated by the mighty Himalaya.

The Rewilding of the leopard Asa, 50 week mark and many positives...


In the image I'm setting a camera (and testing the one taking the photo) at around 3000m in Asa's area.  It was part of one the longest days of the project so far, my vertical ascent for the day was close to 2000m over several kilometres.  Asa's territory is well above the snow line and over the next two weeks I will gradually lead him into the next valley.

This is one of the most challenging things I've ever done.  I've just reached that place physically where I have to careful I don't get run down and I'm grateful to Ian (see the www.facebook.com/jackkinross  post before this one) for offering to arrange protein supplements to come my way.  There's been many acts of generosity including a great gift of some binoculars from Ivan Roglet and of course the feet saving act of Donatella in her current action of getting boots to me from Italy.  Having yeti feet is not an advantage when trying to get footwear.  Many people have gone through Mountaintiger Photography to make valuable contributions which will mean much needed camera trap replacements.

All these things are contributing to Asa being free and wild, they really are.  As I've mentioned before although I'm physically alone high up on a mountain (well not quite alone, I'm with a leopard) the support network is something I could not do without, it is integral to the project.

It's really important to keep emphasizing that this project is about much more than this one leopard and me. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when I read comments like "wow, he's doing this for this one leopard"... I know it is a well meaning type of remark but I urge people to look at the big picture, maybe go to www.wildleopard.net and also check out the projects pages at www.wildtiger.org

In saying that the focus on Asa has meant success on many levels.  Whatever happens from this point there has been a bank of learning and increased hope that rewilding has a way forward and not just the relocation of predators into areas where they've been wiped out.  My own feeling is that we are only at the tip of the iceberg as to where we can go with rewilding.

In the Facebook post I mentioned how Leopard Camp will now have a different role, it will become a place people can visit to understand Asa's story.  Of course they wont see the leopard but they will experience his habitat.

 I have the task now of setting up another base camp at a higher altitude.  There is a lot more legwork to come although in just over two weeks, if things go to plan, I will travel by motor vehicle for the first time in six months.  I am looking forward to spending a day or two in Pokhara but I have no doubt I will have one eye on the mountains, looking towards the ridge and valley that I know Asa is wild and free.

And then I will return to that place...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Feisty camera trap eating leopard ... and cheese...


Shortly after what you see in the image I pushed Asa away.  He turned round and tried to swipe my nose off.  If any of you think this is one of those man hugging big cat bloody stupid things you see on youtube, well, get real.  It's not.  The bond is strong but so is Asa's need to be independent, the boss.  This is normal.  He knows I am the boss at the moment but he doesn't really like it.  And neither he should.  He's a leopard.  At probably just over a year old he's not quite there with his hunting yet but he's doing well.

I'll blog properly soon.  The project is at a crucial stage as I attempt to move Asa over the ridgeline at above 3100m to a different valley where there is a better prey base and he is further away from humans.  It's working but yesterday there was a setback, you'll read about that in the bloody book,  it made me as pissed off as Himalayan black bear as a lot of hard work was undone by a situation that was not the fault of Asa or me.

So we battle on.  It's coming up to the 50 week mark.  It feels like it.  The body is hanging in there but the mind keeps thinking of family.  And cheese...

So yeah, I'll update when I can.  There are many people to get back to, I will when I can.  Support in different ways is coming from all over the planet.  The only time I can upload photos to www.mountaintiger.photography is around 1am when the signal is at its strongest, I'll give it a go tonight, there's some good ones from a couple of days ago (15 January), I need to keep selling them and I thank you for the support. UPDATE - I didn't have enough signal strength, will try again soon.

In the update there'll be news on the Health Post in Chhomrong (yes, two "h"s) which is a go ahead and WildTiger is lending support.  I'll also be writing about progress in the Biosphere Reserve criteria set by UNESCO.

A lot to do but the protection of habitat for wildlife and people is a never ending thing.  Cheese... er... I mean... cheers Jack. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More help from leopard supporters, Kung Fu Sharma and a call out to Australian travelers to Nepal...


It's just after midnight and I'm making final preparations for the journey starting in a few hours into Asa's territory.  I hadn't intended to post but such has been the level of support I really feel the need.  The "Tale of the Boots" continues and the lovely Italian Donatella Piras has taken the situation in her hands and is not only gifting the boots to the project but is arranging everything with the Aku factory in Italy.  This is another example of the help and belief in the project from different people across the globe, just fantastic.  You will all be going to Leopard Heaven as well as being mentioned in the bloody book.  Thank you.  With the terrain I have to negotiate solo, (Asa can only interact with me if I am alone) these boots are vital and Donatella's help in this situation is invaluable.  She is one of several people I am currently preparing exclusive images for through www.mountaintiger.photography and more images including the one shown here have just been posted.

On the local front another passionate leopard supporter Bidhya Sharma is a huge help.  Bidhya is a budding wildlife biologist who has been assisting in many ways.  Bidhya is also a face of the future of the Leopard Rewilding Program... and is also fully aware of the need for martial arts training!  Quick reactions are needed when dealing with leopards as well as a cool, calm attitude which is exactly what Bidhya showed in her contacts with Asa in the early days of the project.

Bidhya also came to the rescue recently by getting a camera body to me on loan when I had yet another piece of equipment come second to the conditions here.  I now have a camera waiting for me in Australia thanks to help from my brother.  I need to get it here and having had so much stuff go missing in transit over the years I'm appealing to any Aussies coming to Nepal soon.  Contact me on Facebook or jk@wildtiger.org

I'm hoping my size 48+ boots don't go missing on their way from Italy but such has been the great nature of the support maybe that vibe will mean safe passage.

A big thank you from me as well as young leopard and all that he represents in this project.  Cheers Jack.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The serious business of surviving a Himalayan winter...and keeping my toes intact...


Fresh tracks.  New snow had meant the day revealing movement of Himalayan Black Bear, Civet, Barking Deer and Langur.  It is the last one I am interested in.  These monkeys will be active during the day. They prefer to huddle together and be warm at night, not be out in the dark with the cold and with predators.  A leopard knows this.  Don't ever believe that leopards are simply nocturnal, they are far too clever for that, they adapt.

Like many times before during the hunt Asa's senses seem to pick up at the same time my interest rises with the knowledge that prey is near by.  There is every chance the alpha male of the primate troop is watching.  Or maybe a scout.  They will be ready to shatter the high mountain jungle silence with high pitched and grunting alarm calls.  Asa moves ahead.  His body language is serious, he has taken on the stance of deadly big cat. He is low to the ground, sniffing, eyes wide, muscles tight, ready to launch.

I have to be ruthless.  There is no room for emotion up here.  It's eat or die.  It's the hunt and in winter the obstacles of snow and ice mean new strategies for both predator and prey.  I have led the young leopard to this place, it's up to him now.

Asa explodes forward in a flurry of snow.  All hell breaks loose...

These days are long.  It can take me two more to recover from the physical effort of hours of climbing through thick wet jungle.  It's a winter wonderland, beauty beyond compare.  I think how it takes my breath away and that brings me to totally being in the moment as I become aware of my hard fast breathing in reality. Every step requires thought but it's a natural process born of many years in the mountains.  There are many factors to take in and to them I must add my continual questioning mantra...what would a leopard do?

The strategies I am using are working.  Using a series of food drops to keep Asa understanding his area combined with hunts so I can monitor his progress.  He is doing well.  Yesterday's panic in the monkey troop proved that.  This leopard is marking his territory, he climbs high in trees to survey the landscape, his focus during the hunt is absolute.

There is still much to be done.  I am using camera traps to understand prey movement and to alert to other predators.  As part of the agreement with the local community I am keeping Asa working an area several kilometres from and high above human habitation.  There is both support and nervousness about this rewilding attempt.  People are happy to listen to me talk about the knowledge being gained but there are many issues surrounding the project, the logistics involved almost as energy taking as the physical effort.

Every time I encounter Asa I tick off more days that he has survived.  The winter is still young and I have to approach the whole process with the realism that nature could play a harsh hand at any time.  It's very much a day to day thing.

I'm going to be off the grid for a little while, there's so much to do.  I'll keep posting images to www.mountaintiger.photography and you can be alerted to them by www.facebook.com/mountaintigerphotography, also sometimes www.twitter.com/jackkinross  A big thank you to those who are purchasing.  Somehow I will get new boots sent to me, many people have offered to help.

Asa is more interested in the business of surviving the winter than destroying my boots now.  That's good because the many kilometres are hard on footwear anyway.  I like my toes.  I want to keep them.

Cheers Jack.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Incredible support, my feet will be safe, thank you...


Yesterday a whole sequence of events stemming from "maybe Jack needs this tent" leading to me posting that I need more boots and then logging on today to find that several people had contributed significantly so that I can do just that.

In the camera trap image you can see the temperature as Asa walks by, well, it gets a lot colder and it is now a real mission to get to the young leopard's territory, an altitude gain of between 800 and 1100 metres and a day in the snow of between anything from seven to ten hours to get things done.  It is crucial to try and finish by mid to late afternoon before the freeze hits.

The proper boots are vital.  I've had decades understanding mountain conditions and the equipment needed, it's specialized especially here in the Himalaya.  Get it wrong and it gets serious.

My feet have been pretty smashed up over the years.  There is one brand of boot that fits me well, Aku, and later today I'll be emailing Italy and arranging new boots to be sent out.  As a friend of mine so eloquently put it a few days ago, I have yeti feet (referring to size not hairiness!) and in these conditions it has to be a full grain leather boot.

The people who came to my rescue are part of a group who believe in these projects.  Because much of my work for many years exposed me to the darker sides of human/wildlife relationships (and those closest to me know that maybe I have seen too much) the support that is coming through now, particularly the leopard rewilding, has helped restore a lot of faith in human nature.  There is still a lot of apathy and misunderstanding out there and it would be very naive to dismiss the serious challenges we all face regarding the environment, our planet, a lot of ass kicking still has to be done.  But there is hope.

Those who know me know I am not a giggly character but I do like to have a laugh and right now I have a smile because people are helping me get some boots as well as other gear needed for this demanding project.

Thank you, cheers Jack.


Friday, January 9, 2015

LEOPARD REWILDING PROGRAM - Tough but successful day as Asa continues to survive up high...


He's doing well.  You can see the focus in the young leopard's eyes as he sprints towards me. Asa is all business.  He knows his social needs will be met as well as that strong thought of "the boss is here with food."  I found him at around 2800m in deep snow after three days away.  He was strong.

It'd been a tough day.  I hadn't really been able to eat properly for about forty-eight hours and last night I didn't sleep.  In mid 2011 I got smashed up by Hepatitis E, an unusual strain but one that forced me to leave the Asian sub-continent quickly, ending up in intensive care in Australia.  I almost lost my liver and while I've recovered ok as well as getting back to high mountain fitness levels there are times when it all comes unstuck.  Giardia, salmonella and other nasties have been regular foes over the years, that's just the way it is when you do this work.

I got to Leopard Camp after a snow slog fueled by one just one coffee.  I melted snow at the camp and made another.  I didn't linger, I needed to get up high quickly, find the leopard and get down before the freeze started.  I bashed through at times thigh deep snow and felt pretty good, thankful for my fitness and thankful to my parents who are both tough, my dad nearing his ninth decade and reinvented as a wood carver, my mum still a very strong gardener.  They got me into the outdoors when I was very young, I've very rarely left.

Suddenly the angry grunting of langur monkys alerted me.  I was in Asa's area but could not be certain if the langurs were pissed off at me or another predator.  I put down the drum which contained several kilos of buffalo meat and crept as silently as I could towards the high canopy commotion.  I did not want to interrupt a hunt but langurs are hard work to catch for any predator.  I got close, it was a pretty cool scene, active primates in snow covered rhododendron forest.  I had my GoPro strapped to my chest and started a quiet commentary when I heard a familiar growl.  It was a leopard.  I turned hoping it was the leopard I have been working with for almost a year now and sure enough Asa came leaping through the snow.  That was when I took the image.

The image is for sale at www.mountaintiger.photography and I'll be adding more from today's encounter over the next couple of days.  I'll be blogging soon re the tactics I'm using, he's a tough young leopard but we have to work as a team to get through the winter.  We're trying as hard as we can.

Right now I'm going to have some hot vegetable soup and I have a craving for fresh buffalo milk, that has to be a good sign.  Cheers Jack.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Changing weather, changing world...


Good morning. After many hours studying leopard tracks yesterday,  I quickly dropped back to the village before a snow storm hit last night, the events in Paris seemingly far away but not really as the signal allowed me to follow them.

The young leopard, Asa, will have found a tree to keep warm in.  I'll do a food drop sometime in the next 48 hours as the weather has meant I have to be flexible.  It's a long way to reach Asa's territory now and the route can get treacherous in these conditions.  I was going to blog about the strategy I'm using (I will soon) but I ended up having to send many emails last night, a result of our changing world.

Stay Strong France...


This is an image of Asa I took three days when we reached a high point of 3123m (according to my GPS), the leopard had trotted off ahead but when we got to the top it was like "where to now boss?"... food, that's where, leopard.

It was a winswept ridge, those of you who understand the mountains will know how in this conditions big snow drifts are on one side of a ridge and the other is exposed to prevailing bluster.  After last however this area will be under a lot of snow and the temperatures will mean it be so for the next two months at least.

The locals had put a small rock sign to show the way.  Not many people go up there which is the whole idea behind trying to have Asa habituate in that region.  I'll explain more about this soon.  Cheers Jack.

Monday, January 5, 2015

High Altitude Leopard... and every rupee counts right now...


This is Asa at nearly 3100m.  We ended up going as high as we could go to over that altitude.  I found the young leopard at about 2700m earlier in the day while I did a food drop at just over 2800m.  My own day had started at 2000m so that after nine hours on the go, much of it with a leopard, I slept well last night.

Today marks 48 weeks since I met Asa.  I'll blog in a couple of days explaining just how the strategy is working but right now I have to ready myself for more longish treks managing camera traps so as to better understand the leopard's area.

Asa is in fantastic shape.  He seems to be coping with the conditions and cold in his stride.  There is more and more evidence that tracks and kill activity previously thought to be snow leopards are in fact leopards. My study with Asa is adding to this, confirming a thinking I've had for over four years now.

I try to move into Asa's direct territory every two to four days, I keep it varied.  As I'll say I'll explain more soon, these days are very physical as well as mentally intense but are worth every effort for the knowledge being obtained.  We have to know more about these animals and sadly just lately there have been more conflict situations resulting in both human and leopard deaths.  This only makes me more determined.

And I need gear!  This project is really demanding on equipment plus the growing expenses just to keep things going.  Vital photographic equipment has really taken a bashing and just things like storm proof clothing as well as the expense of getting food to Asa while he is still in the hunting learning phase, well, the bills add up.  If you can see your way clear to sharing this post and directing people to www.wildtiger.org where they can link to Mountaintiger Photography I'd really appreciate it.  Every rupee counts right now through this crucial winter period and your help aids the saving of lives, both people and wildlife as well as the vital protection of habitat.  Cheers Jack.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Namaste, a lot of variable weather but the young leopard is doing well...


Just a quick hello from the mountains, there's a lot of variable weather right now.  I spent time with Asa yesterday at about 2800m, it was probably the most exhausting day of the project so far, heavy rain and then snow made steep slopes very slippery... and it was bloody cold.  The young leopard was in great shape however and I managed to lead him to a new area which I had scouted for many hours the day before.  So the day was a success.  I could not get images in the jungle as the conditions were too bad and I have equipment issues right now but the physical effort and cold was worth it, I feel good about how things are placed.  Tomorrow eleven months of the project, effectively from the day I met Asa.  So much has happened but the next two months are the most critical in these conditions, I'm realistic but optimistic.  I'll post images of Asa when I can, cheers Jack.