It’s the subject few really want to know about, to acknowledge, to help with. It’s the raw reality in steep jungle country, typical of a situation playing out in too many places in the Himalayan foothills as well as some lowland areas.
The photo shows images from a case we’re working on. In steep jungle country north of Bardia National Park leopard is causing fear. Four schools in the area mean risk for children walking to and from their education. The school in the photo has an uncertain future, if there are more attacks it may close down. At one stage 100 children out of a roll of 150 were not able to safely make the walk which for some of them is an hour and a half each way in difficult jungle terrain, as I say, very steep in places.
We’re currently working with NTNC (National Trust for Nature Conservation) on the situation using tech and a second team is prepping to spend time at the five schools working with the children and communities. My own script is very much about understanding the behaviour of the leopard that has killed as well as a tiger which has just ventured into the area. LeopardEye is one of the tools we are using to improve early warning, there is a lot of technical work needed to get this right.
These problems exist throughout the Himalayan foothills of Nepal and northern India. The issues of prey base depletion due to poaching, disturbance and habitat encroachment (often due to ‘development’) and retaliation killing are to the fore. While there can be some accuracy in understanding the number of human fatalities (many of whom are children) it’s not possible to know the amount of leopards killed but reports both substantiated and not are numerous. As I’ve mentioned earlier, info coming through that there are poachers offering communities to ‘solve their problem’ is more common.
We’re working hard on coexistence strategies. Community anger is quick to fuel if there is not a feeling of being supported. Legal kill orders are current in parts of both countries. The illegal retaliation kills, something I’ve witnessed, are a different dynamic which can lead to body parts ending up on the illegal wildlife trade market, a huge problem in South Asia.
Then there is the safety of children. Leopards are leopards and do what they do, they are supreme hunters and once, often through lack of options, they include children as prey, the problem becomes deadly. I’ve been on dozens of cases now, every single one is brutally tragic. Our mandate is simple, stop people and big cats from killing each other. I have great faith in my team and our systems, we just need to work hard and roll it out. This case can be a real model to show success and extend through the region. Resources are going to be the telling factor, once again. Lives are at stake, on both sides.
I’ll update in early February either from in the field or from base, around the same time our changes at WildTiger are complete.
27 JANUARY BRIEF UPDATE – A tiger has entered the area, killing livestock. With natural prey base a problem this has further complicated the situation.