As I trekked to the leopard refuge station I thought, yeah, we can win this thing…but only if wildlife becomes a global priority

First of all thank you for arriving at this page, it shows you care. Once again, this isn’t the post I had planned (and have drafted), that was more about the Leopard Refuge Station (LRS) itself, that will come soon because it is an example of how we can change the way we do things, for wildlife and ultimately for our own health.

I’m heading to the LRS again today and as our human world goes deeper into a crisis even the thoughts I had a couple of days ago as I trekked through the jungle need reappraising, such is the seriousness of the situation. There are solutions, there is hope but only the very naive by now will not understand there’s going to be a lot of hurt before we can breathe easy again. The frustration is the warning signs were there, the warnings were given but there’s no sense on dwelling on that, we must move forward.

And move forward we can, many are. As I trekked through the jungle the main question in my thinking was do people really understand why this is all happening? I’m fortunate in that for many years now I’ve communicated with fantastic, clever people who do understand and are doing their best for our planet. This keeps me going, inspires me, there are some truly dedicated, brilliant thinkers involved in environmental protection. As these blog posts progress I will talk about some of these people but now is not the time, now is all about the issues themselves and one of the most critical is our consumption and treatment of wildlife.

So for now I’m just going to leave you with the links to two papers lettered yesterday at SCIENCE MAGAZINE (I referenced these at my social media accounts as well). Please do read them. The little leopard I will go to shortly, a highly aggressive animal who (yes, ‘who’ not ‘which’ or ‘that’) sadly cannot be released due to extenuating circumstances, is also a very beautiful animal we are working towards giving the opportunity to be a powerful example of why we must change. If wildlife becomes a global priority ultimately our own species will be in much better shape…

Permanently ban wildlife consumption – Authors: Nian Yang1, Peng Liu1,2, Wenwen Li1, Li Zhang1,*

Wildlife consumption ban is insufficient – Authors: Hongxin Wang1,*, Junlin Shao1, Xi Luo2, Ziang Chuai1, Shengyue Xu1, Mingxia Geng3, Zhouyi Gao1

Lastly, just quickly, a poacher was shot dead yesterday here in Nepal, after an exchange of gunfire. The education regarding the importance of wildlife must be absolute and all embracing … starting at the mirrors we look into.

Protecting every big cat possible…

Just a very quick post, I’m getting a lot of messages, from this point on this is where I will update. As mentioned at WildTiger, the Leopard Refuge Station (LRS) is a high priority, I’ll explain in a more detailed update soon but I will be working in isolation to make things are functioning ok at the LRS from this point. Below are a couple of quick posts I made at Facebook this morning but as I say, from this point, this is where the main updates will be. My very best to everyone in what is a very fluid situation for all of us.

A lot going on right now, for everyone, once again, take care, social distancing is the most effective tool. I haven’t been able to reply to all messages. Just know that at this end, as I’ll explain in a blog soon, the care and protection of wildlife and the people living with big cats is still foremost in our focus. When rewilding the leopard Asa, at one stage I went around 8 months without seeing a motor vehicle, was often isolated … although often a leopard was with me, when he wasn’t off doing his thing.  One can still be very productive working in isolation, that is the situation right now…

And just a final thing for now, as I’ve just communicated to the team here, in Aotearoa New Zealand native language (Maori) we have a saying ‘KIA KAHA’ which means STAY STRONG. We’ve all witnessed some very poor decision making by individuals and leaders who didn’t take this thing seriously enough despite the warnings. That is what it is. Now it’s a matter of making the right decisions for the good of all, we can make the world a much better place once we get through this. KIA KAHA.

Reiterating, protected areas, keeping focus…

A lot can change in a short time when there is a pandemic and indeed a lot has changed since I posted four days ago. We’ve streamlined our focus which you can see at WildTiger, and as I did write last time with the post titled “In these uncertain times, protecting tigers, leopards, wildlife is more important than ever…” our management of protected areas is vital.

My best wishes to all. Thank you for caring about what we do and if you’ve arrived here from WildTiger, my Twitter feed or any other platform, I thank you for taking the time and ask you not to hesitate if you want to be involved, feel free to contact me at projects@wildtiger.org

In these uncertain times, protecting tigers, leopards, wildlife is more important than ever…

This wasn’t the update I was planning but the last couple of days here in Nepal, as in many places in the world, has meant that changes are happening at a rapid pace. Having being here at various stages during the war, the earthquakes and economic blockades I understand full well the challenges for a country in the least developed category during times like this. With Nepal effectively closing down tourism it means the downturn in the economy will create challenges across the nation including wildlife conservation.

This isn’t the forum to be discussing COVID-19 directly except to say that if the link between our treatment of wildlife and this most recent form of coronavirus is finally taken seriously by governments and the public then finally the voices of those in wildlife conservation warning of events like this will not be in vain. Wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, wildlife farming, management of protected areas (and beyond) as well as every other aspect of how we deal with and treat wild animals needs examination, never has that need been more urgent.

In the here and now the the absolute safeguarding of protected areas (PAs) takes on a whole new level of importance. These areas are the surviving lifeblood of ecosystems that have taken a hammering from humanity all over the planet. Here on our patch in west Nepal, the area our team knows as Bardia/Banke/Kata, leopards and tigers are apex predators requiring total protection so that the food chain they dictate can fulfill the vital ecological roles of sustaining nature which in turn means the very air we breathe and water we drink can be at healthy levels. These big cats, already under pressure just to coexist with humans, also face considerable threat from poaching for their skins, claws, teeth/canines and bones. Unfortunately these threats are only going to be more intense during these uncertain times ahead as the economy struggles and opportunists become more active.

As I write this we are reassessing our short term objectives in light of these events. I’ve been feeling positive about our gains in the last few weeks regarding our coexistence strategies in particular but as I mentioned earlier, experience has taught me that fresh challenges are quick to arise in these situations and we have to react quickly. In collaboration with partners, that is exactly what is happening.

I thank those who have been involved in helping of late, your support is needed now more than ever. I’m in dialogue with good people, we can manage this situation if we work together but it’s not going to be easy. The focus has to be unwavering, I’ll update on progress within the next few weeks as appropriate and you’ll see content added to WildTiger and our social media sites as well.

Early warning systems and guidelines work but prey base the absolute key…

Many of you who follow our work will know a lot of effort is going into early warning systems, I’ve frequently worked through the night in development. This is just a short post describing progress, there’s a lot more to be done but there’s reason to be positive.

In an area where human fatalities because of confrontations with big cats last year occurred, we’re working hard to reduce it. The Bardia/Banke/Katarniaghat region is a highly important big cat landscape with protected areas, buffer zones, community forests, national forests and agricultural land interspersed with village areas. It extends from typical Terai lowlands into much steeper country that is vitally important as the tiger population stabilizes and disperses. This dispersal of the striped cat means territorial dynamics are constantly changing which in itself affects the leopard population. Both species were involved in the serious conflict spike.

We’re helping monitor several conflict sites in both hill and flatland areas. Working with partners to improve understanding and communication as well as providing technical support, we’re in a situation where it’s now seven weeks since the most recent human fatality. How I’d love 2020 to be a zero fatality year but there’s a long, long way to go. I’ll repeat the mantra, reducing conflict results in reduced retaliation meaning improved coexistence meaning improved ecosystems.

The images show human movement in a conflict zone, a sensitive area in the mountains with high density of cats currently as the tiger dispersal dynamic I described takes place. Tigers and leopards are not great friends and competition for prey can cause problems. I’ll come back to the prey issue shortly but by being able to collect data in real time through network transfers we’re able to not only warn people of big cat activity but also to advise them that they are taking risks if moving outside the guidelines we recommend, guidelines which so far have been successful in reducing conflict. The system, LeopardEye, involves a variety of cameras and communication systems and is a work in progress but it’s something I have great faith in. Time and resources, yes it’s not cheap but it’s helping save lives. A crucial element is understanding big cat behaviour, not just generally but of the individual leopards and tigers themselves, that in itself takes effort.

More on our progress as it develops but ultimately prey base is the absolute key to coexistence. Over grazing (domestic livestock), poaching and poorly thought out development all put pressure on wildlife, there’s plenty of information and awareness about these issues but they are still happening. Recently I went through the most alarming dataset I’ve ever seen, many images from a conflict area which showed only predators, people and livestock, absolutely zero natural prey. The refusal to acknowledge a poaching problem is a major part of this and in an upcoming education program we’re conducting in a high conflict area we’re making it quite clear that poaching of prey species for wild meat (bushmeat) puts human lives at risk.

We can do our very best with tech, education and general all out effort but it comes down to social responsibility. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a long way to go…

APPENDED a few hours later as we attended a conflict case on our way to the leopard refuge station:

A CLASSIC CASE OF WHY IT GOES WRONG … AND THE AWESOMENESS OF LEOPARDS… This is worth mentioning and in many ways connects to the previous post which is also at wildleopard.net. On the way to the leopard refuge station this morning we called in at a conflict case. Earlier someone had been waiting outside my office, almost demanding a flashlight as a leopard had been taking livestock at the person’s home. We arrived to a typical situation, a poorly constructed night enclosure for goats, easy work for a leopard. I’ve got a damn sore foot at the moment so was perhaps more direct than usual and being direct is something I’m not shy about anyway.


“Give leopards opportunity they’ll take it. And by doing that you’re putting people in danger, especially children, fix your shed and then we’ll talk about a flashlight,” I said.


At the refuge station something happened which made both my assistant and me smile, we got a fleeting glimpse once again of the sheer awesomeness of leopards. It made me realize once again I’ve got to do all I can to convince you about that and then maybe you’ll understand that leopards are not just important, they are, very simply, awesome. Watch this space.


In the meantime I thank those who do help, you make a difference, together we keep going…

17 Feb – LAST UPDATE FOR A WHILE:

GHOST OF OUR FOREST, GUARDIAN OF OUR FOREST…

As an apex predator the leopard plays a vital role in keeping ecological balance, the right number of species underneath them in the food chain, in their territory. This sustains the health of forest ecosystems thus giving direct benefit to humans through air and water quality as well as other resources. This big cat operates over a vaster range than any other big cat. Protect the leopard and we protect that range. At the moment we’re killing the leopard in a variety of ways including poaching, trophy hunting and simply taking up too much space in the name of development. The hard edge of conservation wants 30% of our planet as protected areas by 2030, I’m determined that the leopard is not just a symbol of that but a fundamental part, seen as just as important as tiger or any other species. I have high regard for this remarkable species, I’ve seen so much of just how remarkable leopards are. What the leopard needs, what we all need, is more of you to understand and support that. Back to work…

Why do leopards die?

Another long day at the laptop and I’ve just been told my foot injury is going to take at least a month to heal. So it’s going to be a month of catching up on a lot of stuff. It doesn’t matter where I am though, the jungle
(because it’s too busy to not be there) or in front of this computer for now, every day alerts come through notifying of leopard fatalities, many of which, depending on locality, I follow up on. The one in the image is a melanistic leopard which died in Tamil Nadu, liver damage is known so far, hopefully more soon. It never ends, there’s many of course we never know about. What we do know is that the quota for leopards that can be killed in the name of trophy hunting is well over 2000 for 2020 across several countries. I will be publishing more details on this but for now, just understand that 5 to 6 leopards are killed like this on a daily average. Add to that the poaching, the retaliation kills and the unknowns, like the photograph and those never seen. Why do leopards die? For many reasons that are associated with us. My foot is injured but I don’t think about the pain because I’m too busy wondering why more people don’t care about why leopards die…

The night is theirs, please let them have it…please.

Yesterday I showed a class some recent camera trap images. It was in the context of big cat behaviour and ecosystems. It was also in the context of disturbance as it was explained to the children that in today’s world these animals are under pressure from human activity during the day, that the night must be theirs for animals like the tiger and the leopard to survive.

After another night with loud music played right through it here in the buffer zone of a crucial big cat habitat, and at 8.30am as I write this, the music is still blaring, the issue of disturbance is a hot topic. I’ve had several complaints from foreigners who came here for peace. A friend just said to me how can our children sleep and study the next day? All parts of the dynamic have been discussed, for a while now, from the politics (stopping the music means losing votes), the Tikapur massacre, the different factions (local farmers, the tourism sector, the conservation sector) with different agendas but very rarely the affects on wildlife. I used to be surprised by this, I’m not now, I realize that people just don’t understand.

I’m wondering if the coronavirus, a warning shot from nature, will actually make a difference in people’s understanding of our treatment of wildlife. The kids nod their heads knowingly when we talk to them about it but I’m going to be brutally honest about this, the high percentage of adults I talk to just don’t get it.

The usual talk will prevail about the noise here. It’s just for the wedding season they will say. It’s not. There are countless festivals, programs and events all with loudspeakers involved. Traffic flies through the village at high speed now the road is sealed, no one has bothered to put a sign up saying please go slowly, please go peacefully, please respect wildlife (I’m getting funds together to do this plus an educational pamphlet).

Ok, play your music, yell into your loudspeakers, drive as fast as you can during the day putting people at risk and making a bloody noise. Just do it during the day. But give wildlife the night. The night is theirs, please let them have it…please.

UPDATE:

Ok, some progress since I made the post an hour or two ago. The upcoming CBAPU Day (hopefully in Chepang) and Elephant Puja will both be used as vehicles to educate on this. It costs money so it’s going to be interesting to see who is just talk on the issue. I’m putting money where mouth is re signage straight away to explain why the protected area needs to be a quiet zone. Various other initiatives were discussed, no doubt it will continue but it has to come from the heart as well as understanding the science, this is an ecological issue. Education can be gentle and effective.

On a not so gentle note there are back biting hypocrites re this issue. Walls are thin, jungle drums beat. I’m more than happy, in fact very keen, to have those discussions face to face. Let’s see…

The jungle is a wild place.

Short interim post – Just how marginalized does the leopard have to become before people wake up?

It’s interesting that a prominent international news outlet used this image for news on the coronavirus. An outlet in China has been busted for selling ‘leopard steaks’ among other wildlife parts (UPDATE from EIA who followed up Chinese language reports and have informed us it was most likely leopard cat meat seized). Wildlife trade is a hot issue right now, it should have been a long time ago, the warnings have been clear.

Yesterday as I followed up on leopard skins seizures in Pakistan and another brutal retaliation killing of a leopard here in Nepal I again asked myself the question of just how marginalized and mistreated the leopard has to become before governments, major organizations and the public really wake up and show they care … right now it’s pointing to an overall lack of care with agendas I’m tired of talking about.

Nature evolved this animal to be the apex predator through much of its range. Poaching (parts used for decor, medicine and magic), trophy hunting (including members of the Trump family), habitat destruction and brutal retaliation killings stemming from human and leopard conflict are decimating leopard populations and adversely ecosystems.

And where is the real concern from the parties I’ve mentioned above?

I thank those who do care and do act with support, I mean real support, not the pseudo stuff that has noised up our world for no tangible result. Here on the ground, in a critical big cat area, we’ll continue to do our best using models we believe in because we know they work. We’ll continue to put pressure on those who have the resources to do more and should be doing more. We’ll continue to develop partnerships and support with those who really do care and understand how it is important it is to protect a top predator and its habitat.

A more specific blog post regarding prey species is due, I’ll time it for when the content additions at WildTiger are complete. In the meantime please help if you can, just contact me. Leopards are dying horrible deaths because of humans … we are all part of that one way or another.

The uncertain future of a school, children and leopards the innocent victims in a coexistence struggle…


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.

Using tech to save lives of people and big cats…

This is just a quick interim post as we make final preparations before working an area where a leopard has made three attacks on people in the last two weeks, incidents that sadly resulted in a fatality and serious injuries. The leopard is now considered highly dangerous and our aim is to put in safeguards. The location provides challenges due to steep terrain and recent high rainfall. Su Se La and Manju of the Coexistence Team have been gathering information from locals and making sure people understand guidelines to hopefully prevent further attacks. My role is to understand how LeopardEye can be applied in the area and then work with partners for effective implementation.

I’ll describe this in further detail when back from the field but technology used correctly is a real lifesaver. We’ve made strong advances with LeopardEye, particularly in the last few months and a major focus will be the further development of early warning systems. In mid February we’ll be appealing for support so community based monitoring can be rolled out further in highly affected areas and beyond, this will be done in accordance with local and national authorities. We do have an urgent need right now though so if anyone can help in the short term it would be incredibly appreciated, especially with this current situation, one of four main monitoring sites at the moment. You can contact me at my social media sites or email projects@wildtiger.org.

Every little bit helps and I’ll keep saying it, people feeling protected means increasing tolerance thus reducing retaliation. In other words, saving lives on both sides…