Monday, April 27, 2015
Saturday, April 18, 2015
This post is also at www.facebook.com/jackkinross I'll write about this encounter and publish more at a later date, in the context of the project. I just wanted people to know that Asa was in superb condition when I saw him two days ago. It was an meeting I will not forget...
I was feeling quite fatigued as I trudged up onto the ridge and then down into the valley where I have set Asa's current territory grid. Real tiredness and recent events, I was struggling a bit, doing my best to keep out negative thoughts as the need to focus in the leopard's area was high. From day one this project has been a challenge and those who have read recent posts will know of my frustrations of late.
As if to remind me of the core, the essence of what this is all about, I heard Asa call me from high in a tree. A few moments later the young leopard appeared out of thick vegetation, running towards me in the small clearing. For a second I could not believe it was Asa, he looked so strong, powerful and confident, an incredible transformation from the tiny, uncertain, snarling cub from fourteen and half months ago.
For the next sixty minutes I observed and interacted with this free leopard as he put on a display of acrobatics and agility which took my breath away. He climbed trees at lightning speed, he darted through the jungle, leaping, sprinting, a superb animal doing what he was born to do. I felt years of work in big cat protection had come down to these fleeting moments as I watched a show of exuberance and assurance which seemed to justify everything I am trying to achieve. I left the scene with a gash on my hand, a result of Asa displaying his normal aggression as I removed the lid from the meat drum, sometimes I manage to do this at a food drop away from him but not this day. The wounds are small prices to pay however when something you strive for gives you such satisfaction.
Things are not ideal, there is still much to be done, the learning curve has been steep especially in terms of finding out who the real supporters are and who can be trusted to give vital accurate information. That stuff aside, all the effort has been worth it, to see a leopard be wild and free... and to further the knowledge needed for the rewilding of big cats, these magnificent creations of nature which fill me with such awe and total respect. Jai Bagh.
Friday, April 10, 2015
LEOPARD REWILDING PROGRAM - The harsh realities of wildlife conservation and the loneliness of idealism...
The image is from a couple of weeks ago when I was in Bardia discussing the proposed Rescue and Rewilding Centre with Chief Warden Ram Chandra Kadel and Assistant Chief Warden Ashok Bhandari who is sitting next to WildTiger's Hemanta. The words Ashok said to me regarding the urgency of the situation are still echoing...
Back in the mountains there was an hour about a week ago when I really began to wonder about it all. I was sitting on a rock in pouring rain starting to get cold. I still had to do a decent climb to get out of a valley to get onto a ridge and then drop down to the village. I was physically and mentally exhausted, I felt quite alone, I was thinking about the logistical and financial struggle, I was wondering if I had the strength to carry on.
Asa, the Leopard of Hope, was sitting about two metres away. He was gazing into the distance. I looked at him trying to figure out his thoughts as I had seen him be this way two days before in similar circumstances. Then we had been listening to the relentless chop, chop, chop as jungle wood was being converted into construction timber, probably for accommodation for trekkers. Many tree felling and milling permits had been issued, the area that the young leopard and I had got to know well was disturbed.
I don't have any issues with the men doing the work, they are low caste labourers who are highly skilled, strong and able to work in bloody tough conditions. They are simply doing a job at the behest of others, symptoms of tourism. I have got to know these men and I spend a lot of time reassuring them that they will be safe as although Asa sees them, he will not attack, he will hide and observe.
Asa does this well. He has always kept right away from people when he has had the choice to do so. Many times I have watched the leopard tense up, even turn around on our trail so as to completely avoid human contact.
Yet of course conflict between leopards and humans does occur. Both die. It is an uneasy relationship born of many issues, many complications. There is still so much to learn as to how we can share habitat and reduce conflict. It can never be completely harmonious but it can improve.
It is that thought which makes me rise from the rock and start the trek up the slippery path. I lead Asa to a safe place, a food drop I have made on the grid. At the lowest moments I think of people like George Schaller and his incredible work creating safe habitat for wildlife, I think of the big cat rewilding pioneer Billy Arjan Singh and I think of Dian Fossey and how she almost single handed saved a species, the mountain gorilla. I know they all went through huge hardships (George is still alive and still, in his eighties, making a difference) but that their power of belief kept them going. Their strength makes me feel very humble.
My muscles and mind were sore but suddenly the path wasn't quite so steep...
I will be in the jungle each day for the next fifty, making sure that both the leopard and the woodcutters are safe, avoiding each other. At night I'll continue to pursue the vision of the Rescue and Rewilding Centre. Support is needed, urgently, a lot of it and together with Cecile Michiardi, who has worked tirelessly, we'll put in place the mechanisms needed to find those who are true supporters of the concept, of wildlife conservation. It just doesn't stop, there are no days off, it doesn't go smoothly (far, far from it), it just goes... and keeps going when you truly believe in something...
Idealism can be lonely... however that doesn't matter when you know something is right...
Monday, April 6, 2015
This is a camera trap image of meeting up with Asa (today) at a point on a new territory grid I have set up. The young leopard has adapted to the new grid well and I'll blog in a couple of days re what has been going on including the cave I led Asa to today, a place he seemed to like. Asa has been in a fight (or two) with maybe another leopard. I have been monitoring a wound on his leg but Asa has been looking after his injury well, this is good, it shows he knows how to look after himself in the raw reality of jungle life.
It's been a testing period. I had to reset the grid because of increased activity by woodcutters, something I was not told about and this irks me, all I want is accurate information. However I'm happy with this current area for Asa. Being able to analyze data on the spot was the beauty of the laptop that was stolen by some inconsiderate bastard. Of course I had things backed up and it doesn't stop me getting online etc, it was purely because it was a device that was made for work in places like you can see in the image. That makes me pissed because it got stolen by someone who knew what I was doing because I was wearing a shirt that explained that. The colour of my skin didn't help, as it didn't for the German guy who got his bag pinched at the same time.
I'm really in a mood now where it is best not to mess with me. This is a serious project with a lot at stake not to mention the risks of dealing with a wild animal. We keep going forward despite the crap though.
Another thing I'd like to make clear (again) as it does seem to keep coming up, wherever I go and online etc... but no, I will not be sad when Asa and I fully separate. I will be as happy as anything because despite the success so far the ultimate aim is to show these cats can become fully independent. The only sadness is that this poor bloody leopard got stuck with me in the first place, he should have been with his mother. This is not a parental "love story"... it is a wildlife conservation project based on respect and all I ask is that for Asa, myself, my team, we get shown that because honestly, the effort is huge. There will be other leopards, tigers, who knows what and the same respect will apply. Yes, Asa and I have a genuine bond, we have been through a lot but I would be a disgraceful conservationist if I put anything but respect as the "feeling" that has to be here.
More soon. Jai Bagh.