We can all look at wildlife in a new way…

A recent camera trap image of a leopard as it goes about its business, uninterrupted.

So much has happened since I last wrote at this page. The pandemic is taking its toll globally in so many ways. This post is mainly an update on how we’ve adjusted our own work flow due to lockdown and the situation in general.

Firstly, please read this article (link below) by Steve Galster of Freeland. It’s a good summary why we must all act more strongly against illegal wildlife trade.

The wildlife trade caused coronavirus, and a vaccine can’t fix it

The other issue I want to mention now is directly connected to work we’re doing to set up the Leopard Refuge Station (LRS) but the scope is a much wider picture.

The three images above depict some of the issues I’ve been involved with in my time in wildlife protection. They are self explanatory. In brief text on my social media today I mentioned how often I see eyes glaze over when the subject of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) comes up. I actually see that same look over many wildlife issues, it’s a look that has behind it apathy, ignorance, a general don’t care attitude.

It would easy to become discouraged when the majority of people encountered feel like this. For all that, I still feel positive we can change all this. A big part of that optimism has come from little human beings like the ones in the image below:

Those of you who have followed our work will know they are the ‘Living with Big Cats’ wildlife kids, a group of children who attend classes we conduct in different villages here in the Bardia district in west Nepal. At the moment due to lockdown the classes are on hold but what is tremendously encouraging is the way the kids have been making contact to find out when the classes might start again.

In the classes we focus on ecosystems with emphasis on the fact that the least disturbance there is the better ecosystems function, for the good of all. In essence it’s an approach which explains the vital importance of wildlife. We don’t hide the problems wildlife is facing and we do our best to give solutions. Reducing disturbance of wildlife is the central core to that.

This brings me briefly to the LRS. Sadly there is a leopard which cannot be released, it is a safety issue, both hers and the consideration we’re in a landscape which saw a spike in numbers of people killed by big cats last year. The goal of the LRS (still in its formative stages but with the current situation there’s been realization there needs to be more urgency) is that rescued big cats rehabilitate with a view to release. The leopard I’m talking about here will never have complete freedom but she can be a pivotal tool for a better future for her species.

The LRS is in an isolated area and the beauty of that is that other wildlife is active so any big cats held captive actually have interactions. The leopard in question has a regular male leopard visitor, they interact, I’ll explain this in more detail down the track. Human contact is at the absolute minimum, there is no direct viewing as such, the goal being that technology will allow that. This means education and understanding can be obtained with zero disturbance.

I’m determined the LRS becomes the powerful tool we know it can be. Not only do the big cats benefit but so do we all, with no disturbance, no stress to the animals. Working on the LRS at the moment includes gaining support. If you can help contact projects@wildtiger.org in the first instance. We’ve stepped up our protocols while working the area since the positive test for covid-19 of the tiger in Bronx Zoo. This has really got me thinking how we need to be better because although as I say there is virtually no contact, we have to minimize the risk.

When I’m not at the LRS my days are spent on other wildlife issues including the edit of my upcoming eBook ‘The Importance of Leopards’ (if you want to preorder, it’s only 5 dollars, contact me) as well as the constant dynamic of counter trafficking of leopard body parts. That in itself is a whole other story, for a day in the future. The challenges of developing the LRS however are more than enough due to lockdown and the whole situation, every morning I take a deep breath because of what lies ahead. I pretty much work in isolation now, my main assistant there when I need him, Nirajan does a fantastic job.

In the meantime the team is doing its best to monitor conflict hotspots in conjunction with collaborators. At the moment most of this has to be done remotely, we can’t even access cameras in certain places, lockdown conditions in Nepal are very strict, this is really the only way the country can deal with the virus as medical facilities and testing etc are marginal.

We are doing our best to function, the challenges are as great as they have ever been but the importance of protecting wildlife has never been greater. We can look at wildlife in a new way, the LRS is just one example in a world which really needs to examine its priorities … if tiny Nepalese kids can understand there’s no excuses for anyone else…