Friday, April 29, 2016

Actions speak louder than words, the wild leopard must act to survive...

It's good to be back in leopard territory.  I have so much regard for these animals.  They make very little noise.  Yeah sure, there is communication between family members, as well as those warning growls... and if you've ever heard one without seeing the cat itself it's a spine tingling experience.  I've experienced warnings from big cats I will never forget.  Even the leopard Asa from a young age would do his best to make it clear what his demands were, sometimes that was quite amusing listening to his vocalizations.  At other times, being in the jungle alone when a tiger or a leopard warns you, it is not amusing... give them their space or else.

A top predator is a highly evolved killer.  In real nature for a predator to survive something has to die.  Forget your pets or zoo animals, real nature is a different world.  It's tough.  Leopards don't have conferences or workshops, they don't have apps or psychologists.  A wild leopard doesn't have someone bringing their food.  As a cub they have a short window of time to learn and hone their skills, then they're out there, surviving the best they can.  Evolution has made them into astonishing athletes, with stealth and cunning few species can match.

The challenge for the leopard now is to adapt to an ever changing world forced on them by humans.  The challenge for the conservationist is to help them achieve that.  Yes, there has to be a lot of words to keep evolving strategy, find new ways to combat poaching, help mitigate human/leopard conflict, to try and create understanding in people as to why the leopard is so important to us.  None of this is easy, in fact there are times when you understand you are in a tiny minority trying to achieve this.  It's at those times I close my eyes and think what the leopard has taught me, stay focused, concentrate with a clear mind on the task.  I think of those days when I'm in the jungle and cannot see the leopard I but I know it can  see me, the perfection of its blending into real nature, with no noise, no words... just with the pure silence of understanding as it acts to survive.  I respect that very much.  In that regard the leopard is a perfect being, no words, just action...

We humans by nature use many more words.  But if we don't follow them with action, those words are nothing.  A few days ago here in Nepal another man was killed by a leopard and a  few days before that another leopard skin was seized. It is a complex relationship that needs continual work.  So bye for now...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

#Nepal #people #wildlife #habitat - A complex jigsaw with many pieces...

I often start writing sometime around 5am.  A couple of hours later these blogs are a small reflection of what has been added to journals or other text.  Sometimes the blog is a quick thought or two, at other times it’s more of a rant to get things off my chest like yesterday’s piece about arse biting tigers.

People tell me they like to support WildTiger because it’s not a faceless organization.  They like to read what I write and see the images because they can connect to the thoughts.  Thank you for that.  Unfortunately wildlife protection has become a battle zone in some places,  that means there is some information that cannot be made public.   The image I’ve posted here, one of many I took while meeting people at Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, perhaps reflects the battle Nepal is in full stop, as it takes time to pick up the pieces a year on from the first of two devastating earthquakes.   The rebuild is not happening fast enough, many people are still seriously affected,  that in itself is a complicated story.

I’m not bound by caste, politics or religion.  This doesn’t mean I can always publish what I think although there will be a platform for more truth in the future.  With my own foray deeply back into anti-poaching work I felt some envy yesterday when I talked to several friends who are wildlife researchers in different guises.  It was great to see Tashi after a couple years, we've simply been on different mountains.  He is doing fantastic work regarding snow leopards and other carnivores at high altitudes.  Paras is researching in the same region now, it was wonderful to hear his passion, he too is doing great work.  Earlier in the day I met with Som, I could sense his excitement as he is only a few weeks away from a two and half month expedition researching in north west Nepal, maybe a new bird species or two will result.  Messages from Asis regarding the progress in the Leopard Rewilding Program brought back many memories.  Asis is doing a superb job supervising that project and there may well be another young leopard being added to it soon, Asis is totally suited to the task.  Yes, I envied them all somewhat, the irony I am right now stuck in the city when my heart is in the mountains and jungles but anti-poaching is a far ranging challenge, it requires being in many habitats and the seriousness of the situation means I would never give a no to the call to help.  The hustle and bustle of narrow streets of Kathmandu is sometimes one of those habitats... but tigerland is not far away now.

I guess the desire to be in wilderness is in part to just not want to see the many problems here right now.  Burnout can happen quickly, state of mind and body have to be monitored no matter how good the coping mechanisms developed.

Nepal’s challenges to protect its people and wildlife are influenced by issues going back centuries, not just earthquakes and other natural disasters.  I have an inner smile when tourists start talking about Nepal in general terms.  Locals are always saying to me that no one understands Nepal, the political and social divisions are so deep seated that even those born in this country cannot fully grasp the situation here.  Nepal is a potpourri of complexities as deep as the massive river valleys of the Himalaya, as diverse as the abundance of different wildlife species through its mountains and jungles so my own thoughts are just a tiny reflection of what goes on here but I do feel very protective of this country, its people, its wildlife... so another day begins.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Illegal Wildlife Trade - Does a #tiger have to bite us on the arse to get action?.

This and other updates are at Facebook if you wish to comment.

It was great to wake up early this morning and with the rest of Kathmandu sleeping it meant I had enough signal to watch some music videos of Prince.  I just wanted to remember the genius he was, he seemed to get better with age, it’s such a shame when someone with so much talent passes away too young.

Humans have the capacity to be so brilliant.  This is why it confounds me why we are so stupid.  A friend said to me years ago that as a species we don’t seem to react until we’ve been bitten on the arse.  Climate change is a good example.  It took a long time for the penny to drop although incredibly there are those still in denial that humans are affecting the environment is such a pronounced way that climate, ecosystems, our planet as a whole is functioning in a state of realignment because of our actions.

The mass slaughter of wildlife is another example.  I’ve spent much of the last few weeks getting anti-poaching technology ready for implementation.  To be honest I don’t want to be doing this.  I’d much rather be studying leopard behaviour although of course having an understanding how big cats behave is vital in staying a step ahead of poachers.  The thing is tigers and leopards can only do so much to defend themselves especially if they are being targeted and just as importantly if their prey species are being hunted mercilessly as well.

I’ll be brutally honest in saying I have come across poachers who have been limited in their capacity to understand the effects slaughtering wildlife has on ecosystems.  This is where education and improving their economic circumstances can have immediate and positive effect.  Poverty, while it continues, does mean there will always be poachers available to meet the demand for bushmeat and the dealers in wildlife body parts for bullshit medicines and collectors.

Herein lies the first part of the problem, the sheer stupidity of those creating the demand.  The medical world in all its different forms including the advancement of traditional medicines has long shown the hoax that is the “remedies” of items such as tiger bone and rhino horn, to name just a couple of the really topical items.  What we have of course is an evil greed of dealers driving the uneducated, huge profits are at the root of illegal wildlife trade.  In that respect it shows once again how much money affects IQ but I guess that’s another issue... and don’t get me started on aphrodisiacs.

But the second part of the problem, and equally as stupid, is that we are allowing illegal wildlife trade to happen to the extent it is.  The minor lip service that governments give the problem is simply a reflection of public apathy, the world has not made the connection that illegal wildlife trade is having a huge effect on our planet, ecosystems are getting altered unnaturally everywhere.

As someone who gets to stand in habitats where there are big cats and also in habitats where they and other apex predators have been hunted out perhaps it’s easier for me not to be in this denial.  But when I see the amount of “awareness campaigns” out there I wonder why it is not sinking in with humanity as a whole.  I know a guy in western Nepal, he was actually bitten on the arse by a tiger, he turned at that point from a hunter into a conservationist.  Binod told me he didn’t realize his stupidity until that point.

The image is one I took several years ago and the words were added so it could be the cover picture on a facebook page.  We did it to test reaction.  There wasn’t much.  No, my feet are not as big as that of a yeti (see my new facebook profile pic) but I’d rather kick than bite.  In the meantime however, while the world works out if it is going to stay in slumber on this issue,  we’ll continue to fight hard at ground level.  I thank those who support that, you are the valuable minority and WildTiger will continue to kick hard on your behalf... as well as for the incredible big cats and wildlife we have to protect.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#Wildlife #tiger #AntiPoaching - Big org squabbling, agendas, a complete bloody disservice...

This and other updates are at Facebook if you wish to comment.

Unless you've had your head under a rock you'll be aware of the debate going on regarding wild tiger numbers.  The WWF and Global Tiger Forum (GTF) spin prior to and during the recent Tiger Conference in Delhi has been met with loud derision from various parties.  Although it is important for at least some clarity in an issue where there cannot be exact science, squabbling and agendas are once again diluting effective conservation at the time when we have a poaching crisis.

As I bust my guts at the moment trying to get anti-poaching equipment implemented in places where it's needed I'm reminded of the Jack Nicholson lines in the movie A Few Good Men:

"You want answers?! ... You can't handle the truth!"

You see whatever the "numbers" and whatever the truth, WWF et al will make hay with clever spin, people will respond to tweets with donations, and so it goes on.  I'm not going to get into the nuts and blots of this debate, who is right and who is wrong, I don't have time, I'm too bloody busy.  It's just that so much time and resources get wasted as the bullshit flows and the spin continues when the reality is at ground level it is a real battle.

Back to the movie, well let's change the title to A Few Good People.  It's been my pleasure to spend time with some of them over the last thirty six hours.  There are people who work damn hard below the radar, there is very little thanks or recognition at the coal face but there is the knowledge that this thing is worth fighting for.  Let the others continue with their schoolyard politics while there's hard work to be done.

Re the alternative logo, it's just one of a series that will be applied to products and services used to raise funds, real money for real work... no time for spin, agendas and squabbling...

Monday, April 18, 2016

#Tiger #Leopard #SnowLeopard It's all about #habitat...

This and other updates are at Facebook if you wish to comment.

Despite the oncoming pre-monsoon heat, the mighty Annapurnas gave us an early morning chill, a thin blanket of snow settling last night.  The sacred mountain Machhapuchhre, also known as the Fishtail (and to some of us "Fishy") gave me dawn moments where my camera and my mind could play with the light.

Despite all the rhetoric of  late, the great cats of Asia require one thing more than anything, dedicated protection of habitat...

The Kaski has been my main base for many years now and while that is about to change as I prepare to be in the mighty west of this diverse complex country, it is not with a heavy heart I leave as these mountains go way beyond my own time, they will always be here to return to and while they evoke incredible memories they also provoke the drive to protect the great cats of Asia.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

#AntiPoaching #HumanWildlifeConflict #LeopardTaskForce #Rewilding - Images of Hope...

Tomorrow I start loading images again onto MountainTiger Photography as a way of raising funds for our work. It's been a long drawn out process, several legal issues to get through and it's been stressful.  Persistence usually pays off.  I'll be using several platforms, including Twitter, to make the images available.  Any amount to help us is appreciated.

The image gallery will be based around Asa, the Leopard of Hope, the young cat I lived with in the rewilding program.  Right now two other leopards, Tika and Ram, are doing very well under the watchful (and hard working) eyes of their handlers from NTNC-BCC in a program in collaboration with WildTiger and National Park authorities.  That is a positive among a raft of issues great cats are facing now and those who have just seen my latest post on Facebook (Statement of Concern by Tiger Biologists) will understand that tiger along leopard and snow leopard (among many other species) need honesty, integrity, support and hard work more than ever right now.

My own focus, as I prepare to relocate to the challenging west of Nepal (extremely hot!) is now on anti-poaching (technology implementation) and human/wildlife conflict with emphasis on leopard behaviour.  Big cats have taken a lot of hits in the west lately, this is of great concern in an area which has the potential to become one of the great protected habitats for tiger, as important if not more, than anywhere else on earth.

The WildTiger Journal overview will be out soon.  Having the right type of people involved in this is of particular emphasis and as will be stated, I'm really happy with the outcome in that regard.  I thank sincerely the true supporters.  This is a tough gig, not many truly understand how tough.  There are days I just want to be in a quiet place talking to my family but due to all this I haven't seen them in a long time, that is not easy.  Potshots and attempted manipulations are part and parcel in big cat conservation, I feel sorry for people who think they have the right to do that, their lives must be lacking in certain ways.  At ground level there is no time for that, I look for strength of character, the ability to take some hits, in the people we need to help secure the future for wildlife.  The great cats of Asia, as part of that fabric, deserve no less...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A new year starts in Nepal... #AntiPoaching #LeopardRewilding #HumanWildlifeConflict #Conservation

In the images Hemant Acharya, Nirajan Chhetri, Hirasingh Tharu  and me tend to a planting Hemant made a little while back for the memory of the late Ellen Ammerman, a dear friend and great WildTiger supporter.  Hemant remarked that with the new year just a couple of days away the tree is a symbol of a new beginning.  I know for a fact that Ellen would have liked to hear him say that.

A couple of days later and now the new year is here.  This last one was unforgettable.  Many people lost their lives in earthquakes as well as other tragedies.  There was political turmoil which resulted in civil conflict, resulting in more deaths... and let's not pretend for a second the ramifications of these events have left us, things are still very difficult here.

The Leopard Rewilding Program continues, this is proving to be something special.  As I've mentioned before there will be a report at the appropriate time but so far so good.  I feel very protective of big cats, very protective.  To me every single one is precious, especially now as the populations continue to be on precipices.  My posts yesterday reflected my feelings on the games some are playing, there is so much to be done, big cat protection will require infinite vigilance.

Soon I'll be making Bardia my main base as part of a program in conjunction with the various elements involved with anti-poaching including the park authorities, military, community and law enforcement.  While my main role will be training and implementation of technical aids with regard to anti-poaching and human/wildlife conflict mitigation there is also scope for my passion of understanding leopard behaviour including the relationship that species has with other wildlife including tiger as well as of course the relationship with people.  I have a long connection with Bardia and while I didn't expect to be basing there at this stage it's important to be flexible here if the best effectiveness is to be achieved.

Hemant has really impressed me of late with his dedication.  Many of you know that his father was killed by an elephant a few years ago, at a spot just a couple of hundred metres away from where these images were taken.  The recent surge in big cat poaching has strengthened Hemant's resolve, we had a very direct talk about that three days ago and a phone call last night gave me heart.

I guess what I've found out in a very difficult year is who the dedicated ones really are, who can go the distance, who is prepared to sacrifice.  This has been interesting as some real passion has come through while others have fallen by the wayside.  Big cat protection requires the strength to take hits on many levels. Some can do this, some can't.  Sometimes the sheer brutal honesty is too much and I've been intrigued to see who does what under these circumstances.  At ground level personal agendas get in the way of progress so that in itself requires a certain type of action.

So I thank those with the total dedication.  This thing has a long way to play out and I'm looking forward to our new improved ways of bringing news, I've mentioned this of late, some good strong people are getting involved.  This gives me real optimism and even though there is global apathy towards issues such as big cat conservation I believe there are enough good people to continue the fight and be effective.  It's not going to be easy but everyone knows that...

Monday, April 11, 2016

BIG CAT STATISTICS - Be careful of what you read...

This blog is also at Facebook (with other updates) if you wish to comment.

This is a very quick post but there will be more on the topic soon the upcoming WildTiger Journal, our first in a long time.  Many of you would have seen the news of the new "tiger population statistic" of 3890, there's a link to it on a tweet at @WildTigerNews, posted yesterday.  Anyone who follows my rants will know I am very wary of statistics but in actual fact the figure of around 4000 wild tigers has been talked about at ground level now for at least a couple of years, recognized as being possibly closer to the facts than the "fundraising figure" of 3200.

It's interesting that within moments of the announcement, in conjunction with the Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger currently being held in Delhi, the spin doctors from some of the big organizations (read expensive offices) were straight into their "we're doing a good job, donate now!" mode.  Hardly surprising. My own conversations with people at the pointy end of things was more along the lines of don't buy into the bullshit.

As I say, more on this soon but personally there is a figure I bounce round a bit and that is there is maybe between 60,000 and 70,000 big cats left in the wild on our planet.  Tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards are hard animals to count, census methodology is improving but it cannot be an exact science, it is impossible, nature is fluid and as I mentioned above there is always agendas attached to statistics.  However whatever the purported numbers are there is still one undeniable fact, the most crucial one of all... and that is that big cats, like many wildlife species, are in a hell of a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Leopard: Trying to protect a persecuted species, the good and the bad...

This blog is also at Facebook (as well as other updates) should you wish to comment.

I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve a bit more than usual in this blog.  It'll be the last one for a while, I've got a lot of overland travel in the next few days.  In some ways this bit of writing is prompted by some mathematics.  Those of you who follow @WildTigerNews on Twitter would have seen the link to the media article yesterday giving the very disturbing figures of leopard deaths, data supplied by the Wildlife Protection Society of India.  I follow WPSI's data closely anyway but last night when I started calculating it all, incorporating statistics and news from here in Nepal, well it's pretty shocking.  At that moment I tweeted I needed to go for a run, so I did...

You can see the date in the camera trap image is a year ago today.  Facebook threw up the image as part of that memory post system it uses.  The image was captured at a spot on the food grid system I used with Asa.  We were meeting every few days but the young leopard was pretty much fending for himself at that stage.  About a month later full separation was completed.

At the time I did have serious concerns about human activity in the area, there was tree felling and milling, something I wasn't warned about.  Some of you would have followed those times in my blogs and one day I will tell the complete story.  It was stressful.  I was totally immersed in Asa's rewilding.  Just over two weeks after this image was taken the first of the two major earthquakes struck.  It was a very difficult time for Nepal.

Tomorrow I meet with Asis, I'm looking forward to it. He is doing a fantastic job supervising the rewilding of the two leopards, Tika and Ram.  Asis will head into the jungle soon after, to continue the good work and to give handler Tika Ram Tharu a break.  The guys have a good system going, the leopards are doing well.  We all agreed some time ago that the program details need to be kept confidential for security issues but when it all reaches an appropriate stage there can be at least some public information.

The rewilding program is a positive but one of the very few right now regarding the leopard.  The knowledge gained regarding leopard behaviour is invaluable.  Those who follow things closely will know of the goals of the Leopard Task Force at  There are a whole raft of factors.  Better understanding is needed to meet the challenges of conflict situations and as I've admitted before leopard behaviour absorbs me.

There's no doubt Asis and I will talk of the deep bonds we have formed with leopards, not just through the individual cats in the rewilding program but our total admiration and respect for these animals.  I don't like to use the word love because as I've pointed out before "love" is killing these animals.  It is caging them, it is driving a skin and bone trade.  My book will go into the psychology of this.  Humans have developed a very warped perspective towards wildlife and big cats, as well as many other species, are suffering because of it.

I will wish Asis well for his upcoming jungle time, he's a clever guy, he will continue to do a great job and these two leopards have every chance.  But my own journey will continue with a lot of news about leopards who have met a bad ending.  I have my coping mechanisms but it is impossible not to be affected by this current situation.  Going for a run helps.  I also like to take my mind off things with good food, when it is available.  I like to laugh with people.  This crisis however, and the work that needs to be done is never too far away in my thinking, it has to be, we humans work best when we focus on a task with balance but with complete dedication.

In the last couple of weeks I've written about some of the good people involved and I will bring stories of others as time goes by.  There are also those doing behind the scenes work, their stories can't be made public, the world of poaching and illegal wildlife trade is a complicated one where safety is paramount.

I've been concerned for some time about the news that does go public and people's reaction to it.  I mentioned in my blog yesterday collaborations with the right people, such as journalist Pragati Shahi, to develop a strong platform for the right information to be put out there, news that is not tainted by agendas as this is a huge issue in the conservation sector.  We'll have the thinking behind this in the upcoming WildTiger Journal.  In the meantime please follow @WildTigerNews on Twitter and I'm also going to be driving funding again through the sale of images (and subscriptions) at my own Twitter feed @JackKinross.  Part of our change will be our blogging platform.  Multi media is also on the table.

So there's a lot going on.  The practical side of things in the field is time consuming as is getting information out there and funding the whole process.  The image of a dead leopard, either a photo or in the flesh is sobering, my days are full of this.  The constant news of tiger, leopard and other species being mercilessly hunted means there is no real respite from this situation.  I know deep in my heart the solutions can be effective, as an example the camera system we are introducing in west Nepal will make a difference.  What I don't know is if species like the leopard will ever not be persecuted, I don't know if the general public, globally, really does care enough.  Time will tell I guess so for now it's best to just drop those thoughts and get on with it...

Monday, April 4, 2016

Environmental, wildlife, humanitarian issues: Communicating the right information...

Great to spend time in the last few days with environmental journalist Pragati Shahi.  Those of  you who read the Kathmandu Post (and other Kantipur platforms) will have read Pragati's articles on tiger related issues as well as seeing other environmental and wildlife stories she has had published.  Pragati also writes on humanitarian issues for foreign publications, her direct and well researched approach is building a strong following and recognition.

We're collaborating directly on developing a platform to create a broader understanding of human - wildlife conflict issues and I'm feeling positive with the progress we've made with regard to this sensitive subject.  Pragati is a journalist with a passion for her country, she wants to utilize her skills in the best way possible for Nepal and it's tremendously encouraging for me personally to work alongside someone with such an in depth knowledge plus the enthusiasm to try and create positive change.  Watch this space...

The killing of big cats, the lack of understanding of the consequences...

Image courtesy Himalayan Times

The spate of big cat skin and bone seizures of late, including several more of leopard in the last few days weighs heavy especially when there are recent publications stating how tiger numbers can still be doubled as per the 2022 target ... despite the fact that through the tiger range as a whole the population is only stable at best since the concept of doubling of populations was introduced in 2010, the most recent Year of the tiger.

Yes, there has been well publicized population increases in a couple of countries but they have been accompanied by challenges in census methodology.  A lot of figures get thrown around, especially by organizations with expensive marketing...hmmm I wonder who pays for that? How good is the science of census? Topics for another day...

The leopard only has the conservation status of near threatened through most of its range although there are regions where the classification is up to critically endangered for some sub species including the Amur leopard of Russia.  Here in Nepal, the local sub species is the Indian Leopard which is classified near threatened despite uncertainty about its population status and the constant threats of poaching and persecution because of human/wildlife conflict issues.  But here's a couple of quotes:

“The illegal harvesting of trees, poaching of animals and trafficking of wildlife steals tens of billions of dollars each year from communities and countries. These in turn threaten the ecosystems we all rely on for safe food, pure water and clean air. Wildlife and forestry crime are global problems that require global solutions,” said Sheldon Jordan, Chair of INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group.
The United Nations Environmental Crisis Assessment agrees, stating, “Healthy ecosystems provide the platform upon which future food production and economies are ultimately based.”

My argument is that if key predators are removed  from ecosystems the effects are such that conservation status of that predator is irrelevant, the damage has been done.  Yes, some species are able to naturally get replacements into territories where they have been taken and those who follow these blogs will know of our rewilding work and have read of the concept of getting orphaned cubs to a stage where they can be placed into habitats which need them.

But the continual removal of these big cats from their natural habitats, whether it be for conflict reasons or poaching for illegal commercial gain, is leading to dangerous consequences that in the main apathetic governments voted in by apathetic electors don't seem to understand, no matter how many times they are told.

It's a head shaking situation.  I've been working with someone the last couple of days, someone who totally gets the situation and is in a position to increase understanding, I'll blog about that soon. I've got some long travel hours in and to big cat habitat in the next few days, further implementation of resources for big cat conservation the reason why but I have to admit I'm checking my messages with trepidation, hoping they won't tell me of yet another poaching incident or retaliation killing of a big cat... and constantly asking myself why my own species doesn't understand the consequences of these actions...

UPDATE: Virtually within seconds of posting this blog a source sent me information of another seizure, this time three leopard skins in far west Nepal.

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Many thanks to those who have been following this blog as well as prior to that The Asa Diaries and TigerTrek.  I'm now blogging a...