Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The deadly serious problem of human - leopard conflict...

Three children killed by leopard in about a week has once again led to speculation that leopard numbers have increased.  There is absolutely nothing to substantiate this yet and calls for a cull are very premature.  We do know for certainty that prey base has dropped in many areas (due to hunting and this is usually a socio-economic driven situation) and these areas have leopards seeking alternative food sources.  Dealing with problem leopards in the short term, repairing prey base and regional economies in the long term are the solutions.  This is not rocket science.  Knee jerk reactions will not help but support for grief stricken families plus training and applying resources for mitigation are urgent requirements.  Data shows leopards have caused human fatalities for a long time in Nepal (way more than tiger) but there is no doubt leopard behaviour is changing.  We have to adapt quickly or this carnage will continue.  On with the day...

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Living with Leopards" - middle hill realities...

In the image you can see the spot where six year old Rishi Ram Ghimre was taken by a leopard.  His mother was standing very close to him at the time, around 6pm, as the little boy played.  His body was found in a deep gully the next morning about six hundred metres away.  This is one of ten cases we're looking at, of children being taken by leopard in the area.  We'll be back at this site soon with mitigation strategy.  Leopards are very active in the area, a goat was taken close by just three nights before I took the image.

Each case has its own set of dynamics which need to be understood before applying strategy.  The location you see in the image is very near a school. This of course adds to the fear.  In this particular instance we could not speak to the parents of Rishi Ram, they have moved away, the trauma is just too great.  The locals were very helpful, they want and need help.

However each case does show up commonalities, some of them quite brutal in the way the children are taken and the difficulty for people as they listen to a screaming child being taken away.  Then there is the moment the child stops making noise and the frantic searching by villagers, usually with inadequate lighting.  There is a lot of fear and panic.

High vegetation crops close by are a common factor.  The leopard is the most stealthy, most effective hunter of the big cats.  These crops make perfect hiding places from which to observe and plan an attack.  Often they are nearby community or private forests, this is drama which  takes place in everyday Nepal, everyday South Asia, far from the protected areas like National Parks.

The main common factor is the lack of natural prey species for leopards in these areas.  This is part of the vicious circle.  Deer, wild boar and other animals are hunted as bush meat, a food source for communities in economic difficulties.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out the ramifications.  Livestock, dogs and sometimes people become the alternative prey for leopards.

The middle hills of Nepal are tough terrain.  Life is not easy in any of these areas anyway and issues since the recent earthquakes have added to the struggle.  Landslides, unreliable weather patterns (affecting crop production) and the harsh financial realities are part of life here.  Attempting to co-exist with predators like leopards means further stress.

We've come up with a number of strategies to help mitigate conflict, I'll enlarge more on this soon within the "Living with Leopards" concept.  There are a few legal matters to tie up but nothing is assured in the overall situation, it requires ongoing evolution of strategy.

Retaliation towards leopards in the name of safety is a natural reaction.  In the main people are incredibly tolerant, the frustration for many is the lack of help they receive in a seriously difficult situation.  Wildlife crime does lift its ugly head, it is an important factor, leopard skins and bones are worth a lot of money... and to people with limited resources, well, you figure it out.

This brings me again to the point that until economic hardship is alleviated this struggle will continue.  Yes, it's true there are a lot of illegal firearms still in these areas, a result of the war and one of the strategies we are implementing is to introduce the concept of shooting with a camera and not a gun.  But this takes resources and does not solve the problem of simply putting food on the table.

A couple of days ago, not far from where I write this, a female leopard with four cubs entered a padi field about a hundred metres from jungle and very close to a village.  The situation was monitored closely, the dart team was ready and locals were alert.  The mother leopard led her young cubs to safety, back to the jungle in the dark of night.

No one was hurt.  It was in an area, which by Nepal standards, has reasonable economic stability.

Get my drift?

More field work now but I'll update on the "Living with Leopards" concept soon...

The forgotten big cats but co-existence can work...

 When my work was more tiger orientated I literally used to get hundreds of offers of help and support was forthcoming. With the leopard it's different, barely a fraction. The irony is, and I've stated this several times, the leopard is probably ecologically the more important species, it is the tiger of the here and now because of its adaptability and range. There are critics but its interesting that I don't see them putting their money where their mouth is and by the time all bills are paid WildTiger will have sunk many many thousands into this work. Already the sum is considerable and concerning. But we won't stop because we know it's right and progress is being made. Environmental issues seemingly take up a fraction of people's consciousness, our ability to be sustaining seems wounded, fractured. In that respect the leopard is way ahead of us as a functioning responsible being on the planet...

Here's a link to the Environmental Investigation Agency's call for the leopard to receive strong support at the upcoming CITES Conference:

But there is the reality that living with leopards will always be problematic. In the images you can see firstly locals in front of the house where a six year old boy was taken and in the second one Bidhya checking a camera with some locals in the community forest. It's a high conflict area and co-existence with leopards, mitigation strategy is how we are trying to help.

CO-EXISTENCE CAN WORK... Another look at the powerful leopard that Asa and I shared territory with, the story I alluded to in my post yesterday. I'll tell the complete story at a later date including our encounter with this great cat and Asa's territorial dispute with him.
At the moment heart and soul is going into co-existence with these vital animals, the issues of conflict and wildlife crime to the fore.
I know the effort is worth it, I know there can be a more workable relationship but the very connected problems of marginalized people and marginalized wildlife have to be addressed. Have we the will as a species to address poverty? To really make an effort to address the many environmental concerns? Time will tell I guess...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Soon, the untold story of the powerful "Spotted Tiger" at Leopard Camp...

This post is at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.

I'm ultra busy with human - leopard co-existence issues at the moment so I'm behind in my comms, I ask people to be patient if I haven't got back to them yet.

Soon I'll tell of a situation I've never spoken about.  The reason I kept it quiet for so long is I didn't want people to be alarmed plus I didn't want to threaten the safety of the leopards involved.  Just for now though, those who followed the story of the leopard Asa's rewilding will remember how very reluctantly I had to twice cage the young leopard for a night at a time in the weeks leading up to when we finally separated.  This was because of increased human activity in the area, it was a very stressful time.  What I didn't say, and adding to the stress, was that there was a large powerful leopard in the area.  A series of camera trap images and my own encounter with this "spotted tiger" are part of the story at a time when I felt totally in tune with the jungle... but always conscious that there was formidable wildlife there far more attuned than me.  The incredible cunning of leopards has been brought home to me many times and another case study last week where a leopard snatched a six year boy made me think about Asa's and my
 time with the powerful leopard you can see in the images.  More soon...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

#Human #tiger #leopard - serious conflict on a daily basis...

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm working in a serious conflict zone today  but here's a KP report on the latest loss of human life in Baitadi and some news from Uttar Pradesh (UP) of a tiger killing two people in 24 hours.

- Fear grips Uttar Pradesh village as kills 2 in 24 hrs

- 26th victim in 4 years in region, death of 7-yr-old in attack rekindles fears among Baitadi folks

Uttarakhand, UP and Nepal, all of the same region, are high conflict areas.  Big cats move over borders through these areas.  Genetic databases, conflict kits and better safety through infrastructure (plus education) are requirements across a vast region.  Economic factors play a large part in this and I'll say it for the millionth time, #poverty alleviation to help provide the infrastructure is key.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Human - Leopard conflict: More deaths on both sides...

Two more people killed by leopards in last thirty six hours in South Asia, including a six year old girl in Baitadi, west Nepal. On average it seems to be about one human fatality a week but it's worrying that not all get reported, particularly in India. We're also getting more and more data about killings of leopards here in Nepal not ending up in getting reported to authorities. Every day data comes through. Tomorrow morning I'm back in a high conflict zone where several children have been taken. Anti conflict implementation and training of locals the key. A lot of field work over next few weeks... months, years...

These posts are at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Seeing through the eyes of wildlife...

I was up very early this morning writing in the chapter "I want to see a tiger"..."Yes but does the tiger want to see you" when a couple of articles came up and then got tweeted at @WildTigerNews:

I guess those who truly care about this stuff will check out the articles but one of my own real concerns is the lack of thinking about the right of wildlife to live privately.  This has been an ever deepening subject matter for me especially over the last fifteen years.  Living with the leopard Asa and doing my best to see the world through his eyes, it certainly altered my vision.  Concentrating intently on understanding his reactions (when humans were about) really confirmed many of the thoughts I've had about wildlife tourism, scientific research as well as the exploitation mentioned in the two articles.

I'm not going into details now but one of the stories for my book is a discussion with a friend of mine, a Frenchman, six years ago. He was telling me of his passion for tribal masks and of an island where these masks have deep cultural importance.  When I asked Bastian when he will go to this island he replied that he never will, he cares too much to taint the place further, many tourists visit there already.

I've only ever had two people say to me similar answers when talking about their respect for wildlife.  It's a complex subject and is the theme of the chapter but in many ways is trying to understand the essence of the inward thinking of humans... at a time when we really need to be thinking outwardly, seeing through the eyes of others, including wildlife...

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Living with Leopards" concept update coming soon.

Thanks for visiting this blog page.  These posts can also be found at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.  I'll be updating about the "Living with Leopards" concept soon as we attempt to further improve human - leopard conflict mitigation strategy.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Another dead leopard, representative of a nation's struggles...

An early morning message (image via Ganesh Puri, District Forest Office) a couple of days ago telling of a dead leopard found in Lamjung came as no surprise. It's another incident in an ongoing situation. Cause of death was unknown and due to the location a full post mortem was not possible. It was a young cat, two to three years old and sometimes because of lack of resources it's not possible to ascertain if the fatality is the result of a conflict situation.
Anyone who reads these blogs knows that human - leopard conflict is an every day occurrence here in South Asia. Information coming through is constant, at @WildTigerNews (www.twitter.com/wildtigernews) we've just tweeted "Leopard Fear Spreads In Valparai And Kundadam Villages" which is a typical situation. WildTiger tries to verify this type of news as much as possible so we don't tweet everything that ends up in media. It irks that some orgs do, even though many of them are not even on the same continent.
Sensationalism can ignore truth.
Saying that though does not dilute the problem. Misreporting is often due to a lack of understanding of leopard behaviour and these marginalized cats, just like the scenarios for many of the marginalized people living among them, are victims of a lack of knowledge which in itself can result in spreading more fear.
Some facts are indisputable though. The deaths of over thirty people in yet another awful bus accident tragedy yesterday in Kavre, a high leopard conflict area we've got case studies in, was sobering. It was one of two accidents yesterday, four people died in Baitadi. This sort of news comes through a lot along with the endless dramas at this time of the year, monsoon means floods and landslides, tragic for people and wildlife.
Nepal's tough terrain and climatic conditions combined with political and economic woes means an often deadly cocktail. A young Nepali spending time on a training course in South India messaged me last night telling how surprised she is at how much more developed India is than Nepal. I wrote back that it was positive she can now make the comparison, it shows what is possible. Sush Maa, with her fighting spirit as always, wrote back how much she wants to help things improve here.
When the image of the dead leopard in Lamjung came through I could not help feel it was representative of a nation's struggles. I'm attuned to this type of news, it's part of the gig and shortly I'm back in a zone where several children have been taken by leopards. The sad thing about that is that once again, it's the marginalized who suffer the most. I'll keep banging on about it but we're in a holding situation until issues such as poverty are truly addressed. Until then, the images, the conflicts, the tragedies will keep rolling on.
I wonder when the world will wake up...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The marginalization of #wildlife and communities...

“Illegal trafficking is organized crime. Poaching is just an effect. People keep talking about the poachers because they’re more visible, while the real problem is that the cartels are too powerful. It has little to do with actual animals; it’s more about money.”
A recent quote from Ofir Drori. Amen to that. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the whole dynamic. My own experience, research and actions have discovered communities who are, and it's a word I'll be using a lot - DISENFRANCHISED. Manipulation and corruption by authorities, mafias, businesses and NGOs using everyday platforms (including social media) has effectively meant that marginalized communities are becoming more so. This flows through that the other main entity involved in this mess, ‪#‎wildlife‬, is becoming more marginalized as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sustaining sanity, thanks for the messages...

Many thanks for the all the messages over different platforms, there are a lot of thoughts and requests, I do my best to get back to people (I'm way behind), it's always a juggling act of laptop time and work in the field.
I wish all those who have weekends a good one and even if you don't have free time, try and keep sane, let's all try and get along.
I'm trying... but Nepal may run out of coffee in the process. Cheers Jack.

These posts are also at Facebook (along with other updates) if you wish to comment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wildlife seizures and environmental footprints...

There's no doubt that until the issues of human population, consumption and poverty are fully addressed by society as a whole, environmental/wildlife protection is simply about hanging on tight to what we've got. That battle will just go on and on until WE vote in governments world wide equipped and motivated to deal with these issues. It's up to us. It disturbs me that people don't understand how serious things have got. Believe me, at ground level, it's shaky. ‪#‎WakeUp‬
Far beyond the daily seizures of wildlife parts and serious human/wildlife conflict issues here in South Asia (read ‪#‎poverty‬ related in so many cases) it's the total incongruence of it all when reading (like yesterday's news) the per capita consumption levels (environmental footprint) in countries like Australia and the US (worst offenders but many others over the sustainable scale).
‪#‎NotWatchingTheOlympics‬ ‪#‎DoesntSeemRight‬ 

Monday, August 8, 2016

"Living with Leopards" - Concept...

Many thanks for all the messages lately, I'm way behind in my comms, there's just so much going on. I'll be explaining the "Living with Leopards" concept soon, how it is being presented, the objectives etc. Human - Leopard conflict mitigation is the aim, the data is worrying, there is a lot to do. The image(s) are from a post shortly after Asa and I were translocated to our Stage 2 location in the mountains two years ago but the scope of "Living with Leopards" goes far beyond rewilding. It is about the raw realities of co-existence. My time with Asa before he went his own way was very much about furthering understanding of leopard behaviour. Over the last few years I've realized there is a lot of misunderstanding re leopard issues - conflict, poaching and perceptions. We keep moving forward in an ever changing dynamic.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Human - Leopard conflict: The zones of tragedy...

Getting an understanding of what occurred in a serious conflict situation is about keeping a very open mind. The loss of life, be it human, leopard or livestock means it is a very sensitive situation. In the images you can see Pragati and Bidhya examining the wounds of Sabim Balami. Sabim was attacked by a leopard in the maize field you can see just before the leopard's life was taken. I'm not going to go into the details here, there is still much to be understood about this conflict which took place a few days ago. The villagers did the best they could to remove the leopard from the area before things got out of control. The tragic loss of a big cat and several people injured was the final result.
These investigations and then analysis require the right skill sets. Biologists and geneticists are involved and the interviewing skills of someone like environmental journalist Pragati are absolutely vital. My own focus is very much on leopard behaviour. Technology in the form of a conflict kit is something we are working on getting further implementation. It's all about trying to reduce and prevent serious conflict. It's about saving lives and learning to co-exist.
Another serious issue and one that I have alluded to a lot lately is understanding the dynamics of living with potentially dangerous animals. I see a lot of "keyboard warriors" as well as even those active in conservation get wordy about issues they have no understanding of when it comes to serious conflict. In the main these villagers are people just trying to survive. Better education and management as to how to deal with these situations is an ongoing challenge but calling people "savages" from afar is gutless and judgemental. The over romantization of big cats is equally damaging. More on that later but in an image among these there is a school, between shrines to gods and jungle... jungle which is leopard habitat.
For now it's about implementing mitigation...once again, to save lives.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

HUMAN - LEOPARD CONFLICT: Quick post - pain on both sides...

HUMAN - LEOPARD CONFLICT: When you look into the eyes of a leopard that has survived a conflict situation (many don't), you can see pain, fear and a lot of confusion. When you look into the eyes of a human who has survived a conflict situation (many don't) you can see pain, fear and a lot of confusion. And then there are the family members of victims...
Too many people on the outside of this are taking sides. All I can say is I would never give those people a job. There has to be balance. More soon on "Living with Leopards"...

This post is at Facebook (along with other updates not posted here) if you wish to comment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

No borders, the big cat quest to survive...

This is a just a quick post and I'll have more about the origins of this fantastic image, seemingly of a melanistic leopard caught on a camera trap in eastern Nepal a couple of years ago.  Geneticist Prajwol Manandhar sent me the image while we were having a fascinating online discussion last night.  Prajwol is a passionate leopard researcher among his other intellectual traits, one of the up and coming conservation scientists here in Nepal, a group of people who give great hope.

There is hope for big cats.  Leopards in particular are highly adaptable and like all big cats, highly evolved.  Maybe the leopard will change its spots, maybe there will be more black leopards evolving out of necessity.  Nature has many tricks up its sleeve.

But we must play our part.  The leopard is a crucial ecosystem engineer and it will live where it needs to live to survive. One of the things I love about wildlife is there are no borders, no boundaries in their minds. In a world where humans are choosing to be divisive rather than uniting, to me, wildlife shows the way.

Wildlife are true global citizens, no passports, just nature.  We must support that, for the sake of us all...

Monday, August 1, 2016

Human - Leopard conflict: More disturbing data presents itself...

Yesterday's work day ended up going close to nineteen hours.  I had been preparing info and images for upcoming presentations and more field work.  Later in the day Pragati alerted me to just released data from the District Forest Office (DFO) in Palpa regarding the amount of leopards killed there recently, alarming figures including eight in the last three months.  Cats had been beaten to death or died eating poisoned laid bait.

These killings occur because people's livelihood and safety are threatened by the big cats.  In areas struggling economically the loss of a goat or similar can have serious impact on a family.  Where we're testing mitigation strategy it's the loss of human life which has also been of great concern, many children taken in a area not far from where I write this.

Those who followed my Facebook posts in the last couple of days would have read of a successful rescue of a leopard in Lamjung, just one event of many.  In fact in South Asia it is a daily occurrence, conflict, rescues, a lot of deaths... people, leopards, livestock.

Keyboard warriors the world over get up in arms when a big cat dies in conflict.  I've come to realize that the huge percentage have no idea what the dynamics of these conflicts are all about.  The environmental, political, social and economic pressures in a struggling country like Nepal are lost on most, eyes are not open.

More data from DFOs will flow in over the coming weeks.  I've now got a morning fixing and preparing cameras, part of conflict kits being implemented.  In a world full of problems human - leopard conflict is another one. But for those affected by it, it's a deadly serious one.  There has to be fairness to all parties.   I've mentioned before one needs a very thick skin to do this work.  Well no skin is impregnable and the emotions that do come through have to be harnessed to make sure there is fairness.  There are people, leopards and livestock who need that fairness, that support...

Now blogging at wildleopard.net - thanks for your support!

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...