Friday, February 27, 2015

LEOPARD REWILDING PROGRAM - Thank you core supporters...


The image is a camera trap test at a mid point between the village and Leopard Camp.  I'd just been checking another camera in an area already leech infested due to quite a lot of rain recently.  So just here I'm about to change from rubber boots into the new leathers and get camera gear ready before I go to find Asa somewhere in the jungle.

And find him I did, after making a food drop in another valley.  The meat in the drum weighed something between 15 and 20 kilos so that will keep the young leopard going for a few days.  Thank you so much for the support in response to the last few posts, I'll hopefully get more photos and emails out over the next couple of days and there'll be a couple of  additions to www.mountaintiger.photography soon.

The concept of funding these projects by asking people to buy and download images, print and hang them, spread the word... well, it's starting to work well.  The core supporter group is expanding and the new subscription system will kick in soon.  Online and physical exhibitions are the next stage.

I find this a pure way of doing things and the fact that people are embracing it is pleasing because guess what?  It's working... a healthy young leopard is living free and despite all the issues of late Asa was in spectacular form this morning, leaping from tree to tree, doing everything right.  I didn't want to leave him, it was if we had rebonded after the caging incident which in many ways left us both confused about who we could trust.

But that was then and this is now, we keep moving forward. Hemant is doing excellent work in the west and the vision of a Rescue and Rewilding Centre is clear and active.  As long as I can get accurate information from this point then we can continue to progress during this transition period before final relocation.  The physical effort of this morning to get food to Asa in a safe part of the jungle was worth it just to see him wild and free, that is of course what it is all about.  Nothing is easy doing a project like this here, it's been one challenge after another but my heart tells me the right thing is being done.

I thank those who support that...

Cheers Jack

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Secret Cat" - a maligned species... angry Asa, the Leopard of Hope, is making change...


The image might look good on a black T Shirt huh?  Yeah look, he can be an angry dude but that's just his way.  In a few hours I carry a very big hunk of meat through the jungle to the leopard.  Yep, quite a few people in the village think Bagh Baje is crazy doing stuff like that.  I don't care.  My mum still loves me.

But seriously a big thanks to all those who responded in many ways to the last few posts (there have been more updates on social media)..  I wont go into the gory details of how it works with the meat but that is a big part of nature, for something to live something has to die.  The strategy I am using for this transition period before relocation is about keeping things as raw and wild as possible.  And believe me, it all gets a little crazy up there when this leopard knows there is food around.

I don't sleep much.  I've been thinking very deeply about leopards in general.  They are really starting to suffer right throughout their vast range.  The skin trade, conflict situations, just the way they are generally perceived, as I've said several times before they don't have the rock star status of icon species like tiger and snow leopard.  It's incredibly alarming if the estimates are correct that in India there are now more tigers than leopards.  It's become a forgotten species, a maligned cat.

The leopard, and I am not just talking about Asa, needs friends.  For a long time now, while trying to understand their habitat, I've hugely admired these animals.  Working with Asa for over a year has increased that to even greater respect and sheer bloody wonder .  They are truly incredible animals.

So I will fight for them.  We need them much more than they need us.  We are privileged to share our planet with them.

I now start writing emails to the people who have helped of late.  You are making a difference because you are helping Asa make change.  There's a lot more to be done but let's continue to move forward.

Cheers Jack.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Much tension at Leopard Camp... but Asa's instincts give me hope we can win this thing...


Jack's tip for the day.  Don't piss off a leopard...

Caging him yesterday, aaahhh, no good comes from these things, it's not right and I resent being forced into that situation. Caging wild big cats raises tension, there is a dangerous element, it's unnatural. Asa is free again now, read on...

Asa was an angry cat when I released him from his overnight incarceration (see previous post).  He took a swipe at me and then sat under a tree snarling for a full five minutes.  I pretended to ignore him and eventually he came over, bumped my leg and gave me a quick grooming.  The young leopard was semi forgiving but not happy.  He motioned that he was ready for us to head off for a walk/hunt but I hung back a bit so he knew I was still the boss.

We spent a few hours in the jungle, Asa's every fibre twitching to hunt, to kill, to eat.  Very frustrating for him that the area has a prey base badly diminished by human activity and a lot of buffalo which have changed the ecology.  Every now and then Asa took it out on me, the hits were hard, maybe with an even extra edge because of what happened the day before.

When we got back to Leopard Camp Asa vanished.  I thought this would happen.  He's clever.  The whole scene became eerie as a mist rolled in over the ridge, enclosing the small clearing.  I knew he was there somewhere and I was very wary as I set a rope around the perimeter of the camp area.

Then I heard him.  It was that low rumbling growl, the "keep away or else" signal.  I've heard this in the past with other big cats, it's disconcerting when it meets your ears, you can hear it but not see the source.

Asa was making it clear he was not going to be caged again that night.  The key would be if he decided to follow me while I ferried equipment from the camp to a mid point on the way to the village.  If he did follow me I would have no choice but to return him to camp and cage him.  It was really tense as I lugged a gas bottle weighing more than thirty kilograms through dense bush.  If Asa had appeared and  put in a hit somewhere there I would have no time to react.

The leopard didn't appear, I worked through the afternoon leaving him to his own devices at Leopard Camp. This will make it a very tricky 48 hours while I position food but at least he is free to roam as he has been all winter and before that.

I'm exhausted, the last two days have been difficult.  However right now as I write this I feel respect and admiration for this leopard.  Asa is as tough as all hell.  The way his instincts were today, his anger and agitation actually show his wildness... and that's good.

What is also good is that Cecile from France is here to help.  Cecile has done research work for me before and her no nonsense human rights journalism background are exactly what I need for logistical support. She is down in Pokhara getting things done with the ever supportive Bidhya.  Meanwhile Hemant is working tirelessly in preparation for my upcoming visit to the west to choose the translocation site.  The right information is so important, it's been an issue right through this project, I've been let down too many times now but I have trust in this small team put together for the next phase.

Onwards...


Monday, February 23, 2015

A gut wrenching day... the leopard is strong but I need to find out who his real friends are...


I had to cage Asa today.  I feel sick about it.  It wasn't his fault and it wasn't mine.  I had to do it about ninety minutes after this image was taken.  At that time Asa was really enjoying himself leaping out of trees trying to knock me over. Human intervention after that meant I had to confine him which was totally gut wrenching.

I'm not going to go into the details here, now.   Suffice to say it is indicative of global issues, EVERY nation has to answer to this stuff.  I've just been adding to a chapter in my book.  The chapter is called "I want to see a tiger"... "Yeah sure but does the tiger want to see you" - it touches on many sutuations including today's.  Big cats are treated badly by us.  The leopard is treated the worst.  The skin trade is out of control and habitat encroachment pretty much the same way.

I hated locking the door to that cage.  My fingers are shaky just writing this.  Personal agendas, misinformation, greed, stupidity blah blahblah where do I end?  The simple fact is Asa would not be in that cage if it were not for these human factors.  I will spend a lot of tomorrow with him but he will have to be caged that night as well.  I have a plan, he will be wild and free again after that.  We're going to bloody win this thing, I'm even more determined...

Asa has friends in the human world, I thank you.  He needs more.  When I say Asa I very much mean his species.  Of course I can extend that to say many species.  What price a rhino horn...

I'm fucking sick of personal agendas.  Please excuse my language but that is how I feel.  Wildlife protection at ground level often needs ruthless honesty.  It requires a certain type of person, this is not a place for crybabies.  Those who know me best and support my way know I will do whatever it takes, I will not flinch.

That doesn't make this day any easier though.  I wont sleep well but you can be rest assured that will not diminish the fight...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New boots fit ... and time to beat a new path to a #Wildlife Rescue and Rewilding Centre... #tiger #leopard


If you walked into my room (or tent) all you'd see is outdoor gear.  Even my laptop is waterproof.  Guess that means you can spill beer on it.  Did that to a camera once.  Don't try it.  I live and breathe wildlife work and my equipment reflects that.  Smells like it too and so do I guess...

The boots in the image (caught on camera on one of Asa's food drums), sent to me by Donatella Piras, are indicative of a lot of the support received. The boots are fantastic, they fit really well, I've worn them every day since they arrived a couple of weeks ago.  I really needed them and the call was answered.  Thank you.  Another example (and I could write about several) was that not that long ago either a Frenchman called Ivan was staying in the village.  After a couple of conversations (and not just about cheese) he simply handed over a pair of binoculars.  This type of generosity means so much to me and it really helps, maybe I don't smell quite so bad after all.  Or maybe true wildlife supporters are very tolerant.

Sleeping rough and smelling poorly can't get in the way of decision making.  In yesterday's post, and prior to that I alluded to change.  Some people already have a heads up to what is happening but in short, due to a set of circumstances, I have decided that Asa, the Leopard of Hope I have been working with for over a year now is to be relocated.  This decision has meant bringing forward a long term vision of a Rescue and Rewilding Centre.

Despite the issues surrounding this decision I feel very positive. There have been so many challenges in this project so far I don't feel daunted by what lies ahead.  A location in an area of western Nepal looks to be where it will happen.  Support and encouragement have come from the officials who it needs to come from and I have been asked to choose a suitable site.  I will start this process in a few days.  A purpose built facility is the aim and in the initial stages the focus of the concept will be the continuation of Asa's rewilding.

The young leopard is doing really well, he's in fantastic shape.  A series of situations where basically there was too much human activity, some of it illegal, are the main reasons for this decision.    Essentially I feel it was Asa's decision, he dropped down from the altitude of around 3100m where he was living back to the Leopard Camp area at around 2500m.  I was with him when it happened, could sense his frustration at what was happening.  Out of balance human activity in a jungle/forest area has many effects including of course wildlife movement.  Asa's prey base (existing and potential) are part of this equation.  There's more to it of course, a lot more but for now it's a continuation of moving ahead with purpose and resolve

As always a big thanks to those who are supporting in a practical sense, you know who you are because we email.  I meet about a zillion people a year, there's always contact addresses etc swapped blah blah blah best intentions and all that but the reality is there is a solid core who communicate and care, that means a lot to me... and I do try to wash as often as I can.  Cheers Jack.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Battered and bruised as the flying young leopard gets stronger...


Time spent with Asa these days is a mixed blessing.  His physical strength is such that I walk away from a couple of hours with him feeling like I've just played a rugby game against a team with claws.  The rush through the undergrowth acts like an early warning system.  Usually there is no time to get out of the way but my arm in the right place means sometimes I can deflect the young leopard.  Even then it's a hard hit, I'm getting battered and bruised.


I'm wary of his power but also his attitude.  Recent events meant Asa dropped down to the area near Leopard Camp and he has claimed that territory.  I have to judge carefully how my place in this area fits.  He has to understand that I am still dominant but I also need to allow him to be as instinctual as possible.


It's a fine balance and you can tell by the look on his face in the close up image that there is an edge between us.  That edge has always been there but is now more pronounced as this leopard grows into the confident feline he needs to be to survive.

A change of habitat is imminent.  At the moment the appropriate people are in contact and as I've put in an email out, a long held vision is being fast tracked into action.  I'll blog about this within the next day or two.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Profile shot... and time to find a tree to sleep under...


An image from 12 February (yesterday - more posted at www.facebook.com/jackkinross and for sale at www.mountaintiger.photography) about a kilometre from Leopard Camp.  Asa has seen off deep snow and other leopards.  The issue of human activity  in the area left me with a decision to make, which I've done and will do my best to turn into a positive situation which I'll expand on soon.

Asa didn't make an appearance today at Leopard Camp, this is good, it shows he is happy being on his own in the jungle.  There is food for him at the camp should he visit, I've dropped down to the village and I need a day to recuperate, a tree to sleep under.  I'm looking forward to skype calls with loved ones.

I sincerely thank those supporting by whatever means, buying images, messages of encouragement, it means a lot to me.  Cheers Jack.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A warrior leopard into the realm of the tiger...


Just a quick one as my main blog may still be a few days away while some things get sorted out.  Re Asa's attack yesterday, look, these things happen, is part of the process, as I commented on the post in Facebook, I am not preparing this leopard to work in an office, it is about the ruthlessness of the jungle.  I've had many injuries, this is just another one, there will be more, I'd be completely and utterly stupid if I didn't understand that.  From the very beginning where some people saw "cute" I saw future "warrior"... and I've always been right about that.  Asa is not a pussy cat, he is a leopard and a bloody tough one at that.

Changes are ahead.  Human interference has been dealt with but a decision had to be made.  Stakeholders are being contacted, support is coming from the highest level.  There's a lot to do and it may be a few days before I get the chance to explain properly.

For now Asa is ok, we move forward, yes there will be more blood, for those who are upset by that I'm sure you can find blogs on flower arrangements or something.

Cheers Jack.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

One year with a leopard, from a feisty cub to an ice cool big cat... but a serious reality check...


One year.  A wild ride.  A rewilded ride...

I'm down in the village for a night picking up supplies.  Back up to camp tomorrow.  4 February 2014 was the day I met Asa.  A year later, I'll leave him be, wild and free for the day at over 3000m, it seems appropriate.  The next day I'll trek to the top with food for him.  This will be the pattern for the next six weeks or so until winter relents.  Three days at camp including a food drop day.  Down to the village to resupply.  A four day cycle.  Repeat.

In three days the pattern will change slightly.  For the first time in over six months I will trek to a jeep stop and catch a ride to Pokhara.  A motor vehicle ride, roads, lots of people, things to do, cheese, just for a couple of days... it may be bit of a shock.

In the image the inset shows a moment in time when I was still striking a rapport with the little leopard.  He was snarling at me, pissed off because I had shown him to people.  It was part of the process, I needed to confirm my thinking on these matters, the bloody book goes into this.  The main image is Asa two days ago, licking his lips after tasting some of the frozen lake at above 3100m.  Just moments before he snarled and hissed at me.  Some things never change...

I got some great images at the frozen lake, I'll get them to www.mountaintiger.photography when I can. Thanks to those getting images and I have several specials to send out and a lot of emails to answer, great support for a great leopard.

So this is just a short post with an unfortunate reality check.  I've been getting information from a colleague in another part of South Asia, updated information on the leopard skin trade.  This is stuff you wont see in the media where things get distorted but the news is not good.  On these long dark nights in my tent I get time to think.  A part of my life I thought I had partially left behind needs to be returned to.  Illegal wildlife trade is a complicated, ruthless game.  The fact now that the leopard has become such a focus again combined with my own circumstances where my respect for these animals has grown even more makes me even more determined to defend them.

They are worth it, very much so.  Just look at that magnificent animal beside the frozen lake, that vision gives you no choice but to agree...