Thursday, March 31, 2016
I woke up this morning to a couple of emails, groan, just stuff to make things harder... but what can you do? I shook my head with a smile and then actually started laughing as I reflected at the craziness of it all, especially the last few months. I do like to laugh but as I alluded to in the image I posted yesterday (on Facebook and Twitter), sentient beings, there are times to be deadly serious to get things done.
I thank those who get that, not everyone does, support can be a fickle thing but being honest about a certain situation reflects passion, well that's what I think anyway.
I call this image SEARCH FOR THE MOUNTAIN TIGER and I laughed when the first time I posted it someone commented "I see it!" - These places constantly remind me what a tiny dot I am, they are truly humbling and as much as we humans have created some incredible things, in my humble opinion we've created nothing compared to nature's cathedrals. All the more reason to get up every day and work at protecting them, laughing or not.
I'll be back soon in the valley where I took this image... I will smile... :)
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
I mentioned in my blog three days ago how vital it is to have the right people involved. Sometimes pure dedication is born of tragedy. Many of you who have followed WildTiger will know elements of Hemant's story, it was the start of the Om Prasad Legacy. I met Hemant over six years ago, a couple of weeks after his father had been killed by an elephant. Losing someone close in sudden, tragic circumstances is something I could relate to in my own life so it seemed destiny that Hemant and I formed an immediate bond and only natural that a conservation alliance was born.
So Hemant has been part of WildTiger since that time. Much has happened, many things have changed but the challenges regarding the illegal hunting of wildlife remain serious. Hemant's role as an anti-poaching leader has evolved and our discussions in the last two days have been based around the implementation of technology. Hemant has left to show a device to the right people and I'll be travelling further west again soon to progress things further.
The west of Nepal is an area close to my heart. The tiger has been under serious attack again in that area of the Terai stretching through to northern India. Immediate action to reduce poaching has taken place and will be ongoing, we live in a world where it is very naive to think wildlife poaching will ever be stopped completely. We also live in a world where some areas and some people are marginalized. The west of Nepal is an example. Those of you who follow my blogs will know that marginalization of people and wildlife is a strong driver in my quest for change. My tolerance for political bullshit is pretty much at zero these days, the same with the reasoning for social divide. Every country is faced with these problems to some degree but Nepal does have a magnification.
The west of Nepal has some strong characters. Resourcing them to make sure they are effective is challenging but it produces results. I'm proud that Hemant is one of the strong ones. This is no time for back slapping, there is too much to be done, plenty of challenges ahead but WildTiger will continue to do its very best to play its part to help the strength grow... for the sake of the tiger, wildlife, people, habitat... and another certainty is that Hemant Acharya will continue to be a strong role model for the many youth he has mobilized while doing his work as an anti-poaching leader.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
In life there are the right times to smile and the right times not to...
CASE STUDY - Sabitri Paudel is in a very bad state of mind nearly five years after her four year son was killed by a leopard. It's a tragic story, Sabitri and her husband Shiva soon moved away from the small village where the event took place. They now live quite close by to where I'm writing this but the village isn't far away, leopards still roam, attacking livestock and the memory of that terrible day is still strong for the people living there.
In this particular case there had been leopard attacks on people in the months before the leopard took the little boy. I'm not going to go into further detail now because this is an ongoing study and one of several cases being used to increase understanding. This understanding is in parallel with action as we test and implement strategies for human - wildlife conflict mitigation. The leopard, a species having no choice but to make serious behaviour modifications because of human induced changes to habitat, is our focus. Understanding leopard behaviour, I have to admit it consumes me.
Technology is a major part of the strategy. Here Batgirl Bidhya tests two different types of camera. One can send a message to devices so that real time data can be used to deal with conflict and wildlife poaching situations, all part of the scope I'm working long hours on at the moment. Bidhya is smiling, she smiles a lot, her friends tease her because at a young age she already has "smile lines"... but Bidhya has a very serious side as well. Her dedication to the issues we're working on is fantastic, she has poured many hours into helping me directly as well as other projects. Technology is extremely important but having the right people, with the right balance of skill, passion and determination is vital.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
In conservation the still image is a very powerful tool. To be honest, if things were different I would purely work as a conservation photographer but I'm too deeply involved in project development for that to happen. Sometimes I get irate when people use my images without my permission, most people have no idea the amount of work it takes to get these images, some real sacrifices in tough conditions. I usually need to attach the right words to images to complete the story, I don't feel inconsiderate use of another person's images is fair, I don't do it, why should they...
Soon you'll see more visibly a collaboration with a wildlife conservation journalist who like me has a strong interest and concern in humanitarian issues. We'll be presenting a strong human element with regard to human-wildlife conflict as well as going in depth different aspects of the whole human and wildlife relationship. Various other people connected to WildTiger will be involved, hand picked because they show the right amount of compassion to both sides of the story.
As I've mentioned getting the right information including images isn't easy and nor is the task of applying them to the action to develop projects. I look for people with the right motivation and who really know what it takes. So many ask me "Oh I want to get into something like tiger conservation, how do I do it?" ... my answer is sometimes something like "go and have a couple of kids and realize this thing is not about you" ... I'm being flippant of course, the last thing I want to do is encourage indiscriminate breeding and increasing the population of a species which really doesn't need adding to very much, well, you know what I mean... but the need to understand that real conservation work is hard, for virtually no financial gain and often a lot of time away from loved ones.
But just really understanding the issues is so important, it drives real action. One of the most touching things for me in the last couple of years was a woman in Italy, she quietly went about and held a photo exhibition in her house using some of my images I sent her. She raised funds for our work, she certainly raised my morale.
In the first image you can see one of our human legacies, our destruction of the habitat of other living beings. Of course I have thousands of images of pristine environment as well and it is important to present images and stories with balance, to present the issues, what we are trying to do about them and also to bring hope ... because there is hope, the true conservationists wouldn't do this if we didn't believe that...
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
These posts are also at Facebook (along with other updates) should you wish to comment
Being judged because of your skin colour is never easy. Those who have experienced it know what I mean. Having rhino skin is not even enough armour because racism also separates real friendships from the pseudo, they can be tough moments. My book will tell more...
The positive I try to take is that it teaches you a lot about the marginalized. Being at the bottom of the social heap, as occurs in some cultures by traditions based on beliefs, in others by the economic divide, can mean a victimization that leads to some dangerous consequences, for man and animal. Interviewing a person who has lost a child in a leopard attack brings that home. Seeing the fear in a leopard during a rescue brings that home.
It's at those moments that to truly understand one can take past experiences and realize what a marginalized person or animal is going through. A true conservationist has to show compassion for both people and wildlife. It can sometimes mean tough love because yes, poachers and wildlife dealers do need punishment in many cases but victims of wildlife conflict and wildlife crime are marginalized in a way where they had no choice.
Unfortunately there are those in the conservation community and outside it who don't understand this. That needs to change...
Monday, March 14, 2016
Had a lot of conversations with passionate concerned people about this issue of late. Information falling into the wrong hands because of irresponsible reporting by media, organizations and individuals can do real damage... poachers and wildlife dealers can read believe it or not! We tweeted our concern at @WildTigerNews on this yesterday, we're putting together an article on the subject. Yes, some news to be made public but irresponsible reporting can lead to criminals gaining knowledge of locations as well as actively encouraging wildlife crime... too much noise is a bad thing for wildlife, in many ways...
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Over the years I've had a lot of conversations about big cats and wildlife in general, thousands I guess. Project work requires a lot of extraction of information combined with the physical element of hundreds of kilometres of walking, often up very steep slopes. Sometimes I can go a few days without talking to anyone, sometimes there can be long conversations deep into dark early morning hours discussing strategy. It can mean talking to policy makers, it can mean off the cuff conversations in the middle of nowhere when a friend on horseback appears. Sometimes I need to wait until prayers are finished while at other times it can be an online conversation when a tweet provokes someone into action.
Big cats evoke a lot of different feelings, so varied among many different people. There is love, there is hate. There is joy, there is tragedy. There is indifference, there is passion. There is bullshit, there is action. I document as much as I can, constantly learning. The more I find out, the less I know...
Yesterday I made a couple of posts online, the first being my blog about how information regarding wild big cats has to be carefully managed, there are serious security problems if information falls into the wrong hands. The second post was a link to a BBC Earth article about why people poach endangered animals. On some forums it evoked nothing, on others it evoked a lot of feeling.
For me it evokes one simple raw real conversation. Quite simply we are working our guts out to hold the situation as best possible until there is a major wake up and the world finally addresses poverty. By poverty I don't just mean money in pockets, I mean the wealth of mind through education, the wealth of body through adequate health care. Right now I'm frantically raising funds so the son of a friend can have his life saving operation paid for, something I shouldn't have to be doing if there was a decent system in place. Over the next week I go into long hours for the wildlife rescue and conflict mitigation practices desperately needed here, based around the leopard but extending far beyond. These are issues that in 2016 should have been addressed a long time ago but the sheer fact this nation is impoverished in policy, mind and for many millions financially, it means this constant battle.
Often I feel caught between two worlds. There is the over consuming west which has done incredible environmental damage. Then there is the under performing areas like this one, ironically wanting to go down the same path as the west but in general not motivated enough to pick up the ever growing rubbish being tossed on the ground.
I feel that somewhere between the two worlds is some sort of truth and hope, the raw reality that yes we can get it right. I wonder how the big cats see it because despite our many different attitudes towards them they too are caught in the middle of all this, facing their own raw reality.
So despite all the different attitudes we must continue to work as hard as hell until that wake up eventuates. At the moment I hear a lot of people talking about it but as I settle into a long day's work ahead it would be good to see more of that talk turned into action... Jai Bagh.
Friday, March 11, 2016
This blog is published at Facebook (along with other updates) should you wish to comment.
This is a tricky one and it applies to wildlife in general especially the species at the most risk from poaching. How much information is too much information? When does making this information public actually put wildlife at risk? It's a fine line. I've noticed that some orgs will publish anything they can, even if it wasn't their directly researched information, to gain attention and funds. The wildlife tourism industry also in the same boat.
There is no straight forward answer except that the situation has changed significantly enough that the question has to be asked and constantly reappraised. As I write this, right now, images are being sent to me by a colleague, a tigress and four cubs at a well known and highly protected location... but a part of the world that has a big cat poaching problem right now. Just a few days ago a villager here in the Kaski contacted me about a leopard living nearby but he had told no one, he knew the risk.
Poachers connected to organized crime use technology just as up to date as that used by people protecting wildlife. The battle now involves a lot of high tech tools on both sides. Information hitting public platforms can turn out to be aiding a death sentence.
I've written before expressing my concerns about how we "over intrude" on wildlife. I'm saying here that the consequences can be deadly. We've just tweeted at @WildTigerNews along those lines. The news has to be accurate and verifiable but there is also the question as to if publishing it can have negative effects. Big cats need their privacy, now more than ever...
Thursday, March 10, 2016
These blogs are also posted at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.
If you're into fluffy cute stuff don't read these blogs - this is more of a place for people who want to know raw reality. Some of you may have seen the post yesterday at our Twitter feed @WildTigerNews regarding leopard skin seizures in the far west. Those of you who follow more closely (I mean actually read posts) will know there's been a spate of seizures, big cat bones and skins. Not every seizure gets reported in the media because that can hinder investigations. And of course, as I've mentioned several times before, there's the frightening fact that for every seizure made there's a lot of illegal trade in big cat body parts that slips through the net.
Illegal Wildlife Trade is a multi billion dollar problem. Although China and the USA stand out as the main destination points for both live and dead wildlife, the problem is global, every nation is involved. I guess it's an indictment of our fucked up attitude to wildlife, we cage, we kill, we both love and hate it to death.
The situation here in Nepal is a microcosm because the link between the trade and economic factors is in your face. Poaching is at all levels, whether it's to make a bit of money from bush meat to trade in the high ticket items such as big cat body parts. There's no doubt that the economic downturn in an already struggling country is a major factor in the poaching spike, the earthquakes and border blockades badly affecting tourism as well as causing so much hardship. I wrote how these events would threaten wildlife security and well, I don't want to say I told you so but I told you so.
We live in an age now of "awareness spreading" and endless meetings. Meanwhile, at the pointy end, ground level, we are under resourced. The link between human/wildlife conflict and poaching/illegal trade is becoming a greater tangible, especially in the case of the leopard. From my own point of view this has forced the changes we are making at WildTiger and where we place our emphasis because one thing the years have taught me is that humans are much more reactive than proactive... and this trait is a cost to wildlife, a big bad cost. Human/wildlife conflict mitigation and anti-poaching have to be taken more seriously in an active sense, just showing a sad face about it achieves nothing...
I'll be in the west in just over a week after finalizing a few things here in the Kaski where we have many leopard conflict issues. The issues I've been posting about recently lead to long days. When there is time to reflect I can only shake my head and wonder how the world has let it come to this.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
This blog is also at Facebook (plus other updates) if you wish to comment.
A conversation with the District Forest Officer just a few minutes ago is another step forward for the vision of a purpose built Leopard Rescue Centre within the constructs of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation as a whole. Thanks Bindu for the post below, tracing the beginnings. So much work has gone on strategy and increasing understanding. There is the model with the leopard Asa and the current rewilding post with the two young leopards under the supervision of NTNC's Dr Asis Gurung with backup from wildlife technician Tika Ram Tharu.... there'll be a report on that when it is appropriate. There's also verbal approval for a rewilding post in the west of the country plus Bardia Chief Warden Ramesh Thapa has a proposal forwarded to Government for a more general Rescue and Rehab Centre in that area. There is a consultation process taking place.
My own emphasis is very much on a specialized leopard unit as everyone who follows these blogs knows, there are many issues around these big cats. So the work goes on, it's a constant and evolving process and as I've mentioned the Leopard Task Force concept will be published next week after more meetings.From Monday WildTiger obtains the legal status required to further support these options.
All this is all fine but the proposal by Government as discussed in the posts at Facebook (see previous blog here as well) yesterday is a huge concern. Legalizing trade in this way will have major negative consequences. This proposal will be examined and opposed. It is vital Nepal gets it right, decisions made now affect wildlife conservation forever.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
This blog is also at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.
This photo was taken a few years ago during a time I was asked to get images of the "above ground" visibility of illegal wildlife trade in several cities. The terms of the contract means I'm unable to give too many details (for safety and ongoing investigation reasons) but I posted the image on Facebook yesterday as part of an overview for something else, it drew a coupe of comments and then as is often the case my email inbox started to get activity.
This particular image was taken in Kathmandu when there were several of these young guys selling openly on the streets, selling birds on behalf of dealers. There were arrests, an impact was made and in general there are not as many open sellers on the streets. Getting these shots isn't easy, these guys are wary and there is an element of risk. The trade itself has gone underground and is still a serious problem. Sadly the very medium on which you are reading this blog is now playing a prominent role in illegal wildlife trade, social media has become a large business platform.
The trade is global. I've had to have a moderator watch social media threads for these blogs and we've had to delete comments at times because I've received flak along the lines of "who the hell are these people taking shots at my country when they have so many issues in their own country?"... and unfortunately it's justified as for example the US is the second biggest consumer/buyer of illegal wildlife and wildlife parts after China. It's a serious problem everywhere and just because some countries have strong laws prohibiting trade it doesn't mean it goes away.
Here, in this backyard, Nepal there have been serious problems of late perhaps representing the surge in trade because of expanding markets. Several tiger skins have been seized and DNA testing has identified them to be Bengal tigers from this part of the world. I'm spending more and more time following up leopard skin seizures and this is problematic because there is no genetic database. On the local level even here in the Kaski guns have been seized to combat the illegal taking of bush meat which has been growing as the economic situation worsens but also it has come to light there are restaurants selling deer and other wildlife in back rooms... because there is a demand.
Every deer killed means less prey for a leopard... meaning the likelihood of a conflict situation developing when these carnivores (and other species) start to hunt closer to villages and towns. Anyone who has been reading these blogs understands the consequences of that by now.
It's a vicious cycle. Look at your own area. How much forest has been cut down for urban development over the years? Wildlife becomes more rare, it's value increases on the illegal markets, it becomes a commodity.
In Nepal a few days ago this announcement and I quote "The Government is making preparations to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1973 to allow the general public to keep and breed certain species of animals" and further on was the passage "The proposed amendment aims to attract the private sector in rearing and breeding of wild animals. Body parts and goods made of such animals may be sold, distributed and exported"... I don't think I need to explain the ramifications of this with regard to stimulating the illegal trade. Further down in the announcement it stated that individuals are able to apply to set up rescue centres. This is something I am already involved with but the link to the commercial aspect is of great concern as shown by the shady activities of many zoos, sanctuaries and "rescue centres" worldwide. At the same time the very powerful tourism sector here is lobbying hard to get to be able to get the "tiger tourists" back into core protected areas. The bucket list "I want to see a wild tiger" brigade pay big money, valuable funds for a struggling country. Once again, this will lead to ramifications.
I write this today because as I've mentioned previously WildTiger is evolving in the direction it takes as issues arise. There's no doubt illegal wildlife trade, a multi-billion dollar activity which is a huge threat to biodiversity and ecosystems, is growing. The extent of the problem is beyond the straight consciousness of people involved in combating it as it it becomes of war of proportions evidenced by the shrinking populations of icon species such as elephants and rhinos in Africa and the ever surging threat to tigers, leopards and snow leopards, just examples, in Asia.
There are answers to the problems, we all know that, but they involve a huge shift in thinking and will. There needs to be a balanced amount of talk and awareness but much more action.
For most this is just another issue in a world where a lot is going wrong. For those of us who have to deal with it daily it's a deadly serious situation with ramifications already active but will be even more dangerous for future generations. We are obliged to act.
Monday, March 7, 2016
This post is at Facebook (along with larger images and other updates) if you wish to comment.
First of all my heartfelt thanks to anyone who has supported WildTiger in any way. Those of you who have followed for a while will know that particularly in the last couple of years it's been a very challenging time. Challenges mean evolving to meet them head on, always making the best effort to be effective. Many people say to me they like the fact I do my best to communicate on an individual level, thank you, I'll do my best to continue trying to present a human face to the org. It sometimes means sitting in a tree to contemplate it all and those who know me best know I will walk away from a situation when I feel there is not genuine communication from the heart. There's too much to do so no time to listen to bullshit.
This can mean looking to readjust quickly. Some issues of late have forced that again so in a few days there will be more changes. Running an Org takes funds, a lot of funds, I sell a lot of photographs but now I need to sell a lot more as well as get things moving along with the social enterprises we are developing. Conservation is about many issues including people, business, wildlife and science, but overall it's about the protection of our habitat and by "our" I mean that of all living things. I look for people who genuinely understand that, can think beyond self, examine their own environmental footprint and can see the sheer beauty and importance of nature... but most importantly understand that if we don't protect it we are nothing...
The changes will reflect the efforts to improve our relationship with wildlife, it's not rocket science to understand that if we don't do that then we are leaving future generations with a hell of a mess. We all have that responsibility right now. Jai Bagh.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
This post is at Facebook (along with other updates) should you wish to comment.
The image is slightly grotesque but it's the reality of it I'm afraid as Bindu examines a young dead leopard a few weeks ago. I'm busy pouring over images and data before a meeting with the District Forest Office here in the Kaski, a high conflict area. I'm introducing new strategy for mitigation, to be used immediately with the Kaski as a test case. Such is the nature of all this I see more dead leopards than live ones but that is mainly due to their incredibly secretive nature. It's when they do appear that all hell can break loose. Their behavior is changing, evolving to maintain survival. It's vital we keep up with and adapt in the new nature being created. Blaming, complaining and sadness at the situation do nothing, it's about working hard and aiming at some sort of balance. It'll never be perfect but the current situation has to improve to minimize loss on both sides.The
Friday, March 4, 2016
Thursday, March 3, 2016
This post (and other updates) is at Facebook if you wish to comment.
ADAPTATION... Great to get phone call from Hemanta just now as well as some images from the Cbapu Bardia (Community Based Anti Poaching Unit) day in Bardia yesterday. Unfortunately I have a few things on my plate right now and could not be there but in ten days WildTiger will confirm new support for the CBAPU in what is now a critical time for , , , , . In the update the efforts around human - leopard conflict mitigation will also be explained. Difficult times mean difficult decisions and I've been faced with those lately but it is a case of total belief in the cause and living life according to that. Jai Bagh.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
This blog (and other updates) is at Facebook if you wish to comment.
In John Vaillant's superb book 'The Tiger' he writes of a hunter who says "The tiger will see you one hundred times before you see him once" and anyone who has spent a lot of time in the jungle knows that feeling of being watched. With the even more stealthy and cunning leopard it applies even more and it can be an uneasy feeling, that sense that the big cat is close but concealed in its own realm, a wonder but also powerful force of nature.
Unfortunately the leopard is coming out of hiding more and more. Throughout South Asia the number of conflict situations are increasing as livestock and people sustain injuries or worse. There are more and more scenes like the one posted here but at least this man lived to tell the tale after an attack in Uttarakhand just over the border from western Nepal, we posted re this situation yesterday at WildTiger's Twitter feed.
I'm just back from an area where I learnt of several recent attacks on livestock and dogs. Fortunately there were no attacks on people of late in that location but a valley where there have been several deaths in the last few years is my next stop.
I'll have a more comprehensive update in a few days but a couple of mornings ago I looked up at the sacred mountain Macchapucchre and I felt as if I was getting an almost 7000 metre answer. This mountain has never been climbed, it is sacred, it is a total respect for nature, it is a habitat that is just allowed to be.
While I'm doing a lot of work right now to increase implementation of technology to help mitigate the increasingly more serious issues of human - wildlife conflict, my own focus based on the leopard, I can't help but be convinced that the sacred mountain is simply saying "leave us be, let us have our habitat, return what you have taken and while the relationship between man and nature will never be simple, it can be better than it is right now..."
I'll expand on this thinking soon within the realm of the word SACRED, not in a religious context but with regards to respect, how we must simply let some places be, simply not intrude... at all.