Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The sadness of the conflict leopard...


“As I looked into the leopard’s eyes I wasn’t sure who was sadder, him or me”
The day had been going quite well really. I’d got a lot of laptop work done, caught up on a lot of communications. I’d even made several posts on Facebook, stuff I wanted to get off my chest, stuff I wanted people to know about. There was a couple of hours spent with the Rapid Response Team and a beekeeper from Gulariya, a lot of knowledge shared and further progress in our biological fence project.
Then there was an early afternoon visit from Bernd, a good friend who is a regular visitor to and strong supporter of Bardia. Sunil then doubled me on the motorbike to the welder who is building part of the den for the juvenile leopard, Dipnani, as she goes into rehabilitation. A chance meeting and chat with Khageshwor, another friend and jungle guide I have known for many years meant a cup at Tiger Chowk.
The wonderful light that is Bardia late afternoon at this time of the year greeted me as I entered Park HQ, some friendly banter with members of the CBAPU (Community Based Anti Poaching Unit) was fun before I went to check Dipnani. The very feisty female leopard was in typical high growl mood so after a quick appraisal I moved on to the general wildlife rescue centre under construction.
I have written before about the strong adult male leopard in captivity after a long stint of attacks on livestock. His behaviour and some injuries has meant release is not on the cards. Those who follow these blogs will know of my vision for a specialist leopard rehab unit and Dipnani is now very much integral to the progress of that. She is in isolation and will soon be in a confidential area especially chosen for her rehab.
The leopard you see in the image, the conflict male, is one of many dotted through south Asia, in captive situations due to human-leopard conflict. Humans and leopards sharing habitat is a fact of life here. It is a coexistence which can mean tragedy on both sides if not treated very carefully. Recently published data of the poaching of leopards in India this year alone is alarming and here in Nepal where the terrain makes it much more difficult to monitor these things, there is concern. It is a concern I have daily (and often through the night) and coupled with the conflict situations there is a deepening uncertainty about the future for the leopard. Many will argue that the numbers are high enough for the species not to be at risk but they are generally people who have no concept of how quickly populations can plummet. Once, not that long ago, there were many tigers...
So to me, at least, that makes every leopard precious. My own connection to these animals goes back a while now but that doesn’t make it any easier when in fading light I see this majestic animal caged, his predatory senses in conflict with his captivity. I have no argument that he cannot be released, it’s too risky. He is an innocent victim in that he decided goats and sheep, many goats and sheep, were to be his fare and his behaviour became such that he was high risk to stay wild. This is a tough gig when you really care about leopards and as I looked into the leopard’s eyes I wasn’t sure who was sadder, him or me.
It’s at times like this you have to dig deep. His eyes, those deep piercing stares, cannot betray his sadness but rather than dwell on it I know personally I have to harness the energy from this situation for future leopards, so we can improve strategies and resources, do our best to make sure that leopards have lives where they belong. So this male conflict leopard motivates me to do better and I’ll do my best to make sure that maybe there is a sanctuary situation for him too. But of all the “R words” involved in this, rescue, rehabilitation and rewilding, the one I want to always have as my focus is “release” ... whenever possible. The sadness of the conflict leopard coupled with the determination of those who really care about these animals, can bring change.