Sunday, December 27, 2015

PLEASE vote for ant-poaching, conservation champion here in Nepal...

This post is also at Facebook.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH ONE ONLINE CLICK... Ramesh Thapa is one of the main reasons the tiger still exists in west Nepal.  Ramesh is currently Chief Warden of Bardia National Park and for over 30 years Ramesh has worked in high risk anti-poaching operations protecting wildlife in the area.

Ramesh is currently a contender for INTEGRITY IDOL which is a citizen campaign to highlight honest government officials.  Ramesh is currently working closely with WildTiger's Hemant Acharya in developing anti-poaching strategy in  the vulnerable western regions.  Ramesh is a true champion of the cause, please make a difference by voting for him.

I took this image of Ramesh a few mornings ago, one of several meetings with him over a couple of days as we discussed and planned for wildlife welfare.  His phone never stops ringing, his work day never ends, Ramesh is completely dedicated to the task... with integrity.
light honest government officials

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ghostly image as wild elephant makes his presence felt...

Things are always fluid here in Nepal and I ended up staying in Bardia an extra day.  In a few hours I catch the night bus back to Chitwan, hoping the journey will not be longer than 13 hours.

This wild tusker made his way into the hattisar (elephant stable) last night next to where I'm based.  We were sitting round the camp fire when we heard the commotion, that distinctive trumpeting of the great animal and earth moving thumps as he looked for food and then made amorous advances to one of the domestic elephants.

These things happen, they are part of living in or on the fringe of jungle and wild elephants come into conflict with humans often, every year people lose their lives and we all know that elephants are a species under threat as well.

We had to stand our ground to discourage him from wrecking the place but when he advanced we scurried, fast.  Over the years I've had to make haste away from elephants, rhinos, tigers and leopards but never bears, the animal I am very wary of.  When I was in the jungle with Asa, the young leopard and I would often come across fresh sign of Himalayan Black Bear, often footprints in snow.  When Asa become overly cautious, particularly in thick bamboo, we would back off.

In this case I limited the flash on my camera, I always try to keep my impact to a minimum.  I never go looking for wildlife as part of research, only their sign, if wildlife appears then so be it.

It's all about respect, balance.  There will always be conflict, nature is beautiful but chaotic.  We just have to keep learning about how we can live together with respect...

The presentation and meeting I told of in the previous posts has already produced some positive results.  I'll talk more about this soon, so much to be done, it never stops really but for the tiny percentage of people who really value wildlife we know it's worth it.  We have to grow that percentage so that the future of animals like the ghostly figure in the image is one of species survival, they have that right as much as we do.

Jai Bagh.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Big cats polarize thinking, emotions... but a rescue centre has to happen...

In many ways the enormity of this whole thing hit home again this morning.  I had just given a presentation with regard to big cat rescue and rehabilitation, I then had a walk back to the tiny bungalow I am staying in here in Bardia.  I thought about how it's going to be yet another Christmas away from family, I consoled myself with however incremental the gains are in proportion to effort, every meeting, every presentation, every kilometre walked from camera trap to camera trap, every cramped bus ride, every hairy motorbike moment, every seemingly endless jeep ride over narrow tracks with sheer drops of hundreds of metres, somehow means a step forward.

I look out and see a world that says it cares but doesn't really because if it did, big cats wouldn't be in this situation.  I see a tweet from someone wearing a suit and tie in a western metropolis, taking aim at a poacher or at a revenge killing of a big cat that has taken either human or livestock.  I meet the man earning one dollar a day to patrol an area in a buffer zone, trying to stop livestock grazing, keeping an eye out for poachers.  I open my inbox to all sorts of mail, big cats the theme but personal agendas abounding.  I get far more people wanting than giving, support is a fickle thing but there are a hard core of understanding souls, I whisper thanks in my mind.

The audience at the presentation are all highly experienced.  Wardens, biologists, anti-poaching personnel, an eclectic group of conservationists.  Every one knows the dire need for a rescue centre, a place where conflict and/or displaced big cats can be rehabilitated, maybe rewilded.  It will be a place for wild animals with a fierce spirit.  These are not captive cats waiting for their daily feed, they are highly evolved hunters, they are natural born killers.  Tigers and leopards of this type are the result of nature evolving into perfect predators, confront them at your peril, being stared down and launched at by a big cat is something I don't have words for, it would be insulting to the experience.

The men in the audience know this.  Human fatalities and economic hardship caused by livestock loss to big cats are issues that everyone in the room has had to deal with.  The dozen or so men understand what is at stake, they know how big cats polarize, how these animals provoke wonder but also a spine chilling fear.

Everyone in the room knows how precious each individual big cat is, how it has got to that stage, that's something I don't need to mention.  It's about solutions... and quickly.

I walk back and pass an old woman with five goats, the loss of one would hurt the family.  I wonder how much the tweeter in the suit is spending on coffee.  Far away tonight that man may read about tigers behind the safety of his tablet while here the goat owner will forage in forest to feed the herd.  Different worlds and yet everyone expects.

A poacher and a wildlife trader will plan while an anti-poaching unit will feel the night chill in the jungle.  Millions will hit like buttons or contribute online to the outrage culture.  I will burn the midnight candle, and yes, it really is candlelight a lot of the time in this struggling country, because deep down, no matter how hard it is, how polarizing the subject, we have to have a rescue centre, we have to...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

#VillageLife #Conservation #Connection #AntiPoaching #HumanWildlifeConflict

After some images and thoughts of village life from yesterday evening and this morning posted at Facebook and Instagram, lastly just a few more images from last night. I have a long association with Bardia but not for one second do I profess to truly know it. I raise my eyebrow a lot when I listen to foreigners come to Nepal for five minutes and are immediately "experts"... this place is far to complex to ever truly know. At a natural level all I can keep stressing is the need to protect, this country is vital in the scheme of things and the everyday issues that confront people here need to be far better understood if conservation is to be effective. I'll have more soon on anti-poaching efforts, human/wildlife conflict issues, passionate people involved... watch this space...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Far west Nepal, a place time seems to forget, but not really...

#tiger #leopard #wildlife #habitat #people... It's good to be in the far west, a place that for many years has dominated my thoughts and concerns.  It's big cat country with a beauty that in the right light seems abstract, a timeless creation... but with real time problems. So it's not the time for any western fantasy bullshit, the cold light of day has meant tiger skin seizures pointing to real issues. More than often ignored by policy makers behind desks in far away places, decisions made in coming days will have big bearings on precious big cat futures as well for the young who need to grow old here...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"You only have to look into their eyes to know you have to do the right thing"

Good to catch up with the rewilding team at NTNC - BCC in Chitwan.  Asis and I talked long into the night, strategy both for the short and long term the continuing theme.  Leopard cubs Tika and Ram are still in Stage 1 isolation working with their handlers Dr Asis Gurung and Tika Ram Tharu who are doing an excellent job.  Those who have been following this project will know the translocation to Stage 2 has been pushed back while we deal with the complex issues surrounding the program in the current challenging situation here in Nepal.  The young leopards are in superb condition, physically and mentally, and are exhibiting all the traits of behaviour we are working for.

Barely 24 hours after one long bus journey I'm about to board another for the demanding journey out west, a 10-12 hour overnight trip that my body never appreciates in the cramped seats but as Asis said last night "You only have to look into their eyes to know you have to do the right thing"...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

ANTI-POACHING - Keeping it real at ground level and every rupee counts...

I'll have more soon on Hemant's (left) role in the increased anti-poaching work as the crisis makes this essential and also how WildTiger is stepping up involvement as a whole.  I'm not going to put any roses on this, things are not good here and even if there was a complete resolution now politically (unlikely) it will take a long time to recover.  Sadly, there is also a reality check needed for many, the endearing trait of "it will be ok" is actually counter productive, it is holding back action and is simply a bystander to the empty promises continually dished out at authority levels.

I'm in Kathmandu now (survived a nasty scare on bus trip here - see facebook) for some meetings that I pray will be productive.  A couple of people very kindly reacted with contributions when they saw my post (facebook) this morning describing how Chiran is getting warm clothes and a few sports items to the school in Simjung.  To be honest, every rupee counts, a business partner and I have funded internally for months now, my pockets are virtually empty.  I haven't had time to fundraise by pushing the sale of images, plus I really wanted to see how things played out here.  I've developed new strategy starting 1 January but honestly it's like working two fulltime jobs.  Two private photo exhibitions showed the possibilities, those people will go to leopard heaven as well, thank you.

The Leopard Rewilding Program has been affected by all this, one of the main reasons I'm in Kathmandu.  So much effort and resource has gone into this, we have to keep going.

It's a battle, it really is.  I know it's worth every effort, this country is so important as I've mentioned several times before.  I thank those who are helping, you do make a difference...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pondering it all as another leopard gets beaten to death...

I remember when this image was taken in the Annapurna about two and half years ago, I thought I had a lot on my plate then... if only I knew...
It's just after 1am and I'm still trying to get all the details about another leopard beaten to death on the Indo/Nepal border. We try and verify everything that gets tweeted at @WildTigerNews - this one may take a while and although I try and keep level on these things, it's getting harder because as I keep saying, it's got to the stage where for sustainability every single one of these wild cats is precious, vital. Another tiger skin has also been seized in west Nepal, there's been too many of late, once again a huge loss and without doubt the instability in the country is linked directly to the upswing in poaching. There are still issues to sort with the rewilding program but these recent deaths make me more determined to get that where it needs to be. Yeah, things to ponder right now...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

High in leopard territory getting friendly with the vultures...

Well it's true actually :)  When I was living at Leopard Camp and had no human contact for several days I used to take comfort from the presence of these mighty vultures of the Himalaya.  Asa was of course company in his own right and sometimes the young leopard and I would sit and watch these giant scavengers as they floated in thermals near our jungle home on the ridge.

Yesterday while up high monitoring the area this guy swooped very close, one of four, I wondered if they recognized me.  Being alone up there with the remarkable biodiversity of the high mountains, it gives a perspective that in many ways I struggle to bring to words.  That's probably a good thing because it's the feeling itself that gives the power to want to protect this environment...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Himalayan hearts feeding the life bloods of Asia...

Good morning to Nepal and from Nepal.  Big mountains, big cats.  A post sunrise peak gladdens the heart of someone who respects, loves these natural monuments, are part of his being.

I've said before it's all too easy just to post images of dramatic landscapes and spectacular wildlife. Trying to attach words to the message though is key because it is not just their beauty we have to protect, it is their essence, their meaning, their place in the web of life.

These Himalayan peaks feed the mighty rivers which are the lifeblood of Asia.  The big cats, the wildlife in their ecosystems play their vital roles.  In making these posts I have to continually emphasize that, why Nepal is so important, why the problems here have to be addressed because ultimately the impact if they aren't is something that will affect everyone and everything.

Thanks to those who do get it and support what we do. 

Deep dark jungle, where leopards and bears roam...

It was so dark in the jungle high up today that camera traps needed their no glow LED to get an image, so no, I'm not really wearing white as I check another camera.  A thick fog rolled in shortly after and the temperature plummeted.  Even in the middle of the day the visibility up there was tricky.

Back down in the village now before heading back up tomorrow.  Looking forward to a meal with friends from the Sanjiwani Health Post, a crew who do a great job, I'll blog about them and the role of remote health clinics soon.

It's always slightly eerie checking cameras in that area knowing Asa could be watching.  I move quickly into leopard territory, keeping senses alert for pug marks, scat, scratch marks, scent spray, kill evidence, anything that can give clues.  But I don't want to linger in his area long, just pass through because that is how leopards operate, although we are still learning so much about these robust Himalayan cats compared to their lowland relatives.

I keep a close eye out for human disturbance as well.  As I've mentioned several times lately, there is increasing pressure on these areas because of  the shortage of cooking gas due to the crisis. Himalayan black bears have been active, best to avoid those guys, very feisty.

Many challenges but just have to keep on keeping on...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Nepal, incredibly beautiful, incredibly complex...

I love being in the Kaski.  It's a place where wondrous creatures roam the valleys, the ridge lines, the sky.  Tread carefully but behold the beauty.

Today though mixed feelings as friends of many years tell me of their struggles.  Nepal, never easy but right now harder than it should be.

As I write this the bigshots are in Kathmandu, arguing their cases.  It's sobering though that even if they come to agreement, the lives lost can never be returned.

The complexities of this nation are actually lost on many, it is too easy to be blinded by the beauty.  I've spent so much time now juggling tasks as things change I have no choice but to keep a close eye on political events as well as other factors influenced by this landscape that can deal so harshly.  When not working I read and I've got through many volumes of Nepal's history.  It gives me further insights into the complexities but how much does anyone really understand? Sometimes it's just best to gaze at the mountain for perspective...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Compelling, powerful life force and future proofing for these incredible species...

The sheer power of this tiger took me by surprise.  Countless connections and encounters with big cats (wild and captive) didn't really prepare me for this, it just shows how compelling these animals are.  A big cat born and living wild is very different to a captive born one that is to live its life in an enclosure.  This particular male had been involved in serious conflict situations, he is healing in an off limits secure area but his future is uncertain.

Nature and the human relationship to it is ever changing.  Living in areas where big cats roam is becoming more complex.  Conflict cannot be avoided.  The connection between habitat encroachment and man-eater is tangible.  Work is being done to reduce conflict but it has to be done in ways that are fair to both parties.  As I wrote recently the attitude has to be taken now that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE WILD CATS ARE INCREDIBLY PRECIOUS, nothing less than that.

A conversation with leading wildlife researcher Babu Ram Lamichhane many months ago is still fresh in my mind.  I'm going to talk about Babu Ram and his work as well as many more of the characters involved in Nepal conservation as the months go by.  However, it was a comment on that occasion, while we were talking about the Leopard Rewilding Program, where he said we simply cannot wait for the status of the leopard to reach the critical levels of the tiger.  He used the word proactive.

I've thought about this a lot and while there is a lot of work being done there's also this frustration that globally many efforts are going round in circles as we weigh ourselves down with endless meetings and bureaucracy.  To effectively future proof these species we have to be leaner in some areas but more intense where it counts, on the ground.

The last few weeks have been complicated by the ongoing political/social crisis here in Nepal. The Leopard Rewilding Program has needed re-appraisal in strategy for reasons of security and safety.  This has caused sleepless nights.  We've come up with a solution now and in many ways it gets harder from this point but by introducing further technology as well as adhering to the principle of isolation, the team is ready to take the next step.  There'll be updates at soon.

I'm heading back now for a few days to one of the places where it all began.  Checking and setting cameras in Asa's territory will bring further understanding.  Strategy has to evolve so that the future of big cats like the tiger in the image has an assurance.  We have to pour resources and time into this, it has to be a selfless, concerted effort... there's too much to lose otherwise...

Jai Bagh.

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