Monday, March 30, 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
LEOPARD REWILDING PROGRAM - More Ruthless truth: Management by exclusion and conservation with the gun...
I'm a few hours away from another of those epic road trips out west. Sixteen hours plus of being hunched up, thrown about, bemused by the effort needed to get to a conservation area. It's worth it, getting to a National Park I have a long association with, a place where the tiger population is on the increase and rhinos, elephants, wildlife in general live in a place where the gun is managing their protection. It's not perfect of course but gains are being made and poachers know if they venture into the core zone they are putting their lives at risk. I'm there for the next round of talks regarding the Rescue and Rewilding Centre, that of course has a big bearing on the future of Asa, the Leopard of Hope.
I saw Asa two days ago in what has become a weekly encounter. I almost did a double take when I found him after three hours searching. His size, confidence, athleticism, instincts, he has a way about him now which is truly impressive. Several hours later I dropped down to the village battered and somewhat bloodied. The bruises will go away (to be replaced by more at the next encounter) and there'll be a few scars which will last for life but the surge of confidence I felt in the strategies I've adapted to rewild this leopard was exactly what I needed after several weeks of seemingly endless problems. Not for one second am I naive enough to think things will run smoothly from this point, it just doesn't work like that, reality checks are constant.
However, seeing Asa so strong, so "wild", yeah, it did me the world of good. The young leopard treats me like a wild animal, his is a rough cat. The hits are are quite fearsome but it's important for him to know he cannot fully dominate me so that while I am entering a territory he has pretty much claimed we need to continue the process of the weekly food drops in the grid I have set up. Asa is a sub adult and research has shown that leopards will make kills and lead their offspring to the dead prey. This is part of the overall thinking I have applied to this situation. I'll explain this in more detail in the future, there is simply not enough time now plus there is a lot more planning to be put into practice, techniques to be refined. The WildTiger philosophy is to walk the walk before talking the talk...
What I can say though, and this is separate to Asa and the rewilding process, is that over four years research is going to lead to a value added protected area. One or two more discussions need to take place but the concept of a zone that use sacred principles, topographical barriers and community support is being pushed through. It is a mountain area that is dear to me and I feel a relief that this can be done. There is a growing frustration in the conservation community that the world hasn't woken up to the issues and that protected areas which are managed by enforcing total exclusion are the only way forward. This is a ruthless truth, there can be no other way because humanity has relinquished many rights through constant exploitation.
I don't do this work to make friends, I do it to protect habitat. This sometimes means that ruthless truths are a bit much for some to handle. I cannot apologize for this, there isn't time and actually, there isn't inclination. If we get it right now there is every chance habitat recovery can take place in huge areas of our planet.
I thank those who support this thinking. You know who you are and you are making a difference.
There is Hope...
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
I have many images like this, different times, different places, different countries. Not for one minute am I pointing the finger at Nepal, this is a global issue, we are all responsible.
Of late I've been talking about the ruthless truth. When one is spending a lot of time seeing the world through an animal being rewilded, in this case, Asa, the Leopard of Hope, a certain type of perspective comes in. Conservationists, real ones, bust their gut because they care, because they are worried. Someone jokingly said to me a while back that I liked wildlife more than people... hey c'mon, humans are in my top 30 species...oh ok then... top 50. But all joking aside I think true conservationists are in fact the truest humanitarians because it's about the protection of our home.
There is hope. In a few days I'll be back in Bardia where tiger numbers are on the rise (a report on this soon), it is a place where value added protection is worth every effort. Of course, for a young leopard like Asa it cannot be about safety, the life of a leopard is a tough one anyway but it is about fulfilling roles in ecosystem the way nature intended. Unfortunately few people ask me about this stuff, the questions are more like "what does his fur feel like?"... hmmm...
I could easily have played this whole thing another way... posted "cute" photos of Asa, sold enough images to easily fund the project. I could talk about how his fur feels.
Not my style sorry... there's plenty of ruthless truth to come. Yes, there is hope but it's time some people woke up...
Sunday, March 15, 2015
I often encounter 84 year old Pempa during the course of my day. He lives on the outskirts of the village on the way to Leopard Camp. Yesterday I took this image as we were both crossing a massive landslide, not a place to linger. I was on my way to study wildlife activity in a valley a few kilometres away, Pempa was on his way to his buffalo after having collected fodder, these loads are often around 40 kilograms.
Life isn't easy here...
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Probably the main reason I have so much respect and admiration for wildlife is because of the way different species have their own specialist roles in the web of life. The leopard is a fantastic example of this.
Watching Asa be what he is has been both a joy and a fascination. A big part of me sitting here writing this now would rather be up there with the young leopard, being part of his day. Doing that would however be disrespectful and purpose defeating. The leopard is primarily a solitary animal. The balance that Asa and I have now, when we meet on the days I do food drops, it seems to be working well. Our connection is very much based on respect and for me trying to improve my knowledge, specializing and improving.
I have the same respect for people who try and do something very well, sticking to what they know and improving on it. These people make the best team players because they perform their key roles for the greater good, they don't pretend to know what they don't, they have pride and respect in their own skill base because of others who have done the striving before them.
In a recent email out to a group of supporters I wrote that I have never met a leopard that tried to be a bear. The leopard simply concentrates on being the best leopard it can be.
Surely that is a great example to us all. When Asa and I had our vulture encounter two days ago we were privileged enough to see their world close up. Observing Asa learning and understanding the instincts of the vultures, seeing the leopard react accordingly, it was nature at its finest.
It was the way the world is supposed to be. Do what you know and do it well. Let the rest take care of itself in the control of other specialists... the way a leopard does... cheers Jack.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
The realization a couple of weeks back that I would not be seeing family for some time yet due the the circumstances that have evolved, well it forced me to dig deep. My family understand, they are supportive and that means a lot to me, I'm thankful.
I'm also thankful to the people on the ground here as well as in distant parts including those who are following and supporting by buying images. I'm particularly grateful to those who have messaged me with true understanding of the work here. It is about far more than the leopard Asa, the wild cat I am rewilding. There is no doubt that Asa is central to a lot of activity, a lot of thinking, he is very much part of a big picture and in that way he is a gift because he is making people think. The people buying images are supporting that big picture and it was pointed out to me recently by someone I respect, a mentor, that I should perhaps be doing more to remind people of that in particular that this thing is not about "saving" or "protecting" Asa, the scope is far wider.
It's about habitat protection and that includes a strong human element. Increased protection status is the aim and that encompasses many issues including mountain safety, something I will write about more soon but has been touched on with recent events here in the Himalaya, unfortunately of late including too much tragedy. I've now got two long days trekking to understand a situation with a view to improving safety.
By buying images people are helping several aspects of life here, thank you. Your support makes it easier when those realizations about family hit home. It's not easy but it's totally worth doing. Once again thank those who understand that in the big picture.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
The image is from a camera trap yesterday at about 2900m, the snow not too deep at that altitude. Around 3000m and above I was often in thigh deep drifts, the result of falls in recent days throughout much of the Himalaya. I set certain types of cameras for certain types of conditions and locations. Yesterday I set cameras during a sweep traversing several gullies and ridges along transect lines I have used for several months now.
I undergo these sweeps, taking several hours, to get an idea of wildlife motion through the range as well as livestock and human activity. These factors play a big part in where I will place Asa's food drop. The presence of other predators plays its part as well. Yesterday I had a brief glimpse of what I think was the young female leopard which appears in the area every few months. She once came very close to my tent and on another occasion her scent interested Asa enough that he went off exploring for four days. He is still much too young to mate but he does not seem at all concerned by her being in the territory unlike when the large male leopard passes through, this making Asa very wary.
I hate disturbing wildlife and I immediately changed my line of survey after my encounter with the leopard yesterday. I would far rather my cameras see these animals than get a direct sighting myself. Stress on wildlife through over indulgent research methods and poor tourism practices is something that concerns me greatly. Many "wildlife reserves" have become nothing more than large zoos and the integrity of the ecosystems is often not the priority of operators. Unfortunately the income from wildlife tourism is important for many conservation projects as well as community developments. It's a double edged sword, something I grapple with, as do many others as there is no easy solution. The model I am trying to develop for WildTiger is one of "wildlife first" but there are times progress means compromise. It makes me uneasy but I think that's a good thing, it means constant looking for better solutions.
It's a long day tomorrow with the food drop. It means finding Asa and leading him to the area after the drop is made. We usually spend a few hours together but there is no doubt that he associates me with food, exactly the outcome I had been striving for. The balance between attachment and detachment is something I am still learning of course because a project like this is so new but respecting Asa's solitary instincts is essential.
This may all sound quite clinical but it has to be that way to be effective. However it doesn't dilute the passion in any way. While I know it will take me 36 to 48 hours to physically and mentally recover from the preparation and the encounter with Asa itself I know I will learn... and I love that. I also love that I know so little because it gives so much scope for knowledge to be gained. The most important three words for a genuine researcher are "I don't know"... and I'm pleased to say I use that phrase a lot :)
I bask in my ignorance.
That being said I am excited about the future prospects for big cat rewilding. Replenishing ecosystems from the top down has not only become crucial but I really feel it is a moral obligation... conservation must not only come from the head, it must come from the heart.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
A late winter storm is here, the same system that recently hit Afghanistan with tragic results. The image of Asa is from three days ago before the weather hit. I will see him in a day or two, he will be fine, he is a leopard, he is strong and has learnt so much these past months. Asa, the Leopard of Hope, has proved himself.
In the meantime I'm down in the village preparing for a new phase for WildTiger. As I alluded to in the last post having the right people involved, trust. work ethic and accuracy of information are key issues when trying to run these projects. The landscape, weather and infrastructure will always mean big challenges so the human element is critical. I'm going to post regarding this and our direction soon. Cheers Jack.
The image is from several months ago when Bidhya and Bindu visited me at the village. I had been roughing it at Leopard Camp for many weeks hence the yeti beard. The Bs gave me a very hard time about it and insisted I tidy up my act... which I didn't... but have now that I am spending most nights down in the village now that Asa has reclaimed Leopard Camp. So now hair is trimmed, I thought it best I didn't scare anyone.
The Bs have been integral in the project and both are studying hard in their respective fields of wildlife research, I have great faith in them both. Opportunities for women in the conservation sector are slowly opening up and it is vital this continues to bring the balance needed for policy making. In saying that though I am encouraging the Bs to spend as much time in the field as they can in their careers. Although it's hard work it is paramount that researchers do the hard yards. These two may look like butter doesn't melt in their mouths but I have seen them both tough it out when it counts.
I write this because right now Cecile is down in Pokhara interviewing a good friend of mine, Jagan Suba Gurung. Jagan is a conservationist and women's rights activist who has done remarkable work over the years, so much so she was recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. We'll have an upcoming story on Jagan, conservation in a developing country is very much intertwined with politics and social issues including the big ones of health, education and equality. Cheers Jack.