Every leopard death tells a story… and it’s always a sad one

This follows on from the post 3 days ago, this latest case in Rajasthan where a leopard died in a snare yesterday, I spent last night trying to get details, not just because this happened in our zone but because I follow up as much as possible in South Asia.

Every day there is a multitude of leopard cases which flow through our alert system. Most are conflict issues and getting information on these is difficult even when on location because there is usually a lot of emotion involved particularly if people have been attacked or worse. Everyone tells a different story but as time goes by there are tools which can help define detail.

Poaching cases is different. These cases always involve a body or at least body parts which have been seized. It is important to remember though, as I’ve said many times, cases with evidence are only the tip of the iceberg, every day in South Asia leopards die, as you read this right now it’s odds on a leopard will be suffering terribly in a snare trap somewhere.

The reason it is vital to get as much information as possible about known leopard deaths is that every case tells a story. With snares, it can often be ascertained if the trap was set to target wild meat (bushmeat) meaning the leopard, tiger or other predator caught was collateral catch. Investigation may however lead to targeting of the big cats themselves in which case it can mean a whole new set of dynamics as to who is involved and this makes intelligence gathering and networking of data sources important. I’m not going into all those types of details right now, one day I will, I’m just too busy at the moment.

There are commonalities whatever the situation. The main one is that a big cat, usually a leopard, has died. The second one is there is not enough overall concern about this situation. Following through on these cases is often a lonely, painstaking job and as I wrote in the previous post it often reveals just who really does care about this carnage. Illegal wildlife trade, wildlife crime in general is still not a big enough part of people’s consciousness, there is a lack of realization just how serious things are, just how much wildlife we are losing every day. The third commonality is the straight out sadness attached to the situation, that a leopard has died in such a brutal way. Our range of emotions when this occurs makes us human. It always cuts.

Unlocking cases during lockdown… and finding out who really cares

An adjusted work flow is the reality for so many people around the world because of the pandemic, for me it has given an opportunity to follow up on many cases that are part of the scourge that is the trade in leopard body parts in South Asia. Making contact with the right people to get information is not always easy at the best of times so persistence is key. When you’re passionate about something persistence is easier especially if there is the drive of knowing it is the right thing to do for a species not getting enough help.

Investigation and judicial processes when followed up give good indications of how seriously cases are treated, that varies a lot, giving further indications of who really cares about such matters when it comes to the leopard. Alas, it is an animal which suffers from a lack of care and emphasis right through the chain. Not totally however, there are some good people involved, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy to strike up a quick and strong empathy with those people and in a short period of time networks can be strengthened. There are some truly dedicated people involved in combating wildlife crime, in law enforcement and other investigation sectors, and doing all that is possible for these specialists is vital.

It is that very dynamic which gives me some hope, getting the right people involved, as quickly as possible separating the talkers from the doers. The poaching/trafficking of the leopard is something that will only be reduced by strengthening these networks (anti-poaching/trafficking) and resourcing them, the expertise is there and there are certainly others like me who are driven to reducing the amount of these magnificent animals are being killed in snares, by poisoning and other despicable ways. I’ve also mentioned before that compassion for the species you are trying to protect has its role in conservation.

Poaching/trafficking of leopards is complicated, the players can vary from a solo hunter to vast criminal networks, this is one reason why every case is important to understand, the threats to leopards in certain areas can be countered with more efficiency. Every case is different however, poachers and traders are people and people are different. This is why it is important not to generalize, take anything for granted. There is one common ingredient though, it’s money and right now during this pandemic there are those who see the killing of wild animals as either easy money or of a way of economic survival.

This is why following up cases of even a year ago can be so valuable if it throws up information about someone who may be active now. Following up can tell the story if people were indeed locked up or perhaps weren’t and then there is the need to understand why not. A slap on the wrist financial penalty can be nothing when there is a lot of money to be made. This could mean the difference between life or death for a leopard or some other wild animal. That makes the effort worth it for the people who care.

Appended just before 5am the next day after a pretty much sleepless night working on LeopardEye and understanding a lot of information about poaching coming through in the last few hours:

And later, at the end of day, after some hot jungle work, some random thoughts appended:

Appended 24 May 2020, an acknowledgement for the help of the Katy Adamson Conservation Fund (KACF) for their help for the community team which works hard in anti-poaching and coexistence strategy. When WildTiger updates as the situation with the pandemic settles down there will be more on this team:

Quick update as #AntiSnare the focus

The predicted poaching spike with much of the world locked down during the pandemic has become an awful reality. At the moment here on the ground we’re very much focused on #AntiSnare which includes the use of LeopardEye as one of our main tools.

To be honest the levels of poaching/logging are even worse than we thought it would be, this has meant that everything else has had to go on the backburner but as I’ll explain when the time is right the monitoring of people and wildlife in key areas for coexistence strategy is unfortunately very much linked to understanding illegal activity in those places as well. We’re working hard in conjunction with authorities to combat the problem which is not easy as lockdown restrictions make logistics more difficult.

I’ll personally Tweet and post at Facebook at times as well but please follow our main Twitter feed @WildTigerNews

Perhaps this post at Facebook I made today sums up our general feeling during this time:

And appended today, 19 May 2020, as more reports come in:

Finally for now, appended 21 May 2020, as recent data tells us about some interesting big cat dispersal as nature has room to move during lockdown:

The global 30 percent protected area vision, it’s the only way…

An almost sleepless night as I tried to arrange replacement and extra devices (see previous posts) after the loss of an important piece of equipment for the protection of people and wildlife.  So much work has gone into LeopardEye, a lot of it painstaking but it works, has proven success so yeah, there’s disappointment when people you are trying to help cannot be trusted.  Life goes on and there’s been a lot of learning about people since the pandemic started.  More than ever I feel the vision of protected areas increasing to 30 percent of our planet is the only way.  There are people working towards this, it will take time and these Pas have to be places where human interference is minimal, no hunter’s guns, no fishermen’s hooks, in fact as little human impact as possible.  There’s then will be the places that wildlife roams free, where ecosystems function properly, where nature can be true to herself.  It’s visions like this that make it easier to get up in the morning even after little sleep…

Appended a couple of hours later following my words yesterday expressing concern that people really don’t understand the extent of illegal wildlife trade and the effects it’s having:

A few later, more info on another killing of leopard as the carnage continues:

Appended 9 May 2020

Another leopard goes down, it’s continual…

I’m receiving many messages re the killing of the leopard yesterday in Chandragiri, Kathmandu valley. Until there’s more details, no comment on that case but it seems to be the same old situation of everybody blaming everybody else. What I will say is this, these types of killings are happening throughout the Indian sub-continent and are indicative of the plight of the leopard. I’ve even been to a case before in that area, it’s not the first time and god knows how many cases roll through, many don’t hit media. Having witnessed revenge killings with my own eyes it is a brutal statement of humanity because the leopard is an animal, through no fault of its own, which has run out of room. We’re working hard on coexistence models but they can only work if there is a stepping back by humanity, a new regard for nature. The models work in those situations but my fear is even with this pandemic the message to humanity about our treatment of nature is not getting across. It has to, we cannot go back because if we do we’re stuffed.

Appended a few hours later:

And a few hours later again, enough for now…

Imagine if ‘ecosystem’ was the most important word in the world

Yesterday in the jungle we spent some time in an area looking for sign of human activity. It was there, in a place it shouldn’t have been but that was the situation even before lockdown. Despite that though, there was plenty of sign of wildlife, there’s no doubt wild animals are getting more breathing space in many places.

Increased levels of poaching have been reported globally. This was totally expected, no one who works in wildlife protection is surprised. The pandemic has exposed shortcomings in the ways anti-poaching is resourced, there are valuable lessons to be learnt. The economic downturn which is going to last some time means pressure on wildlife will continue.

This means it’s an ironic state, wildlife is moving more freely in many places because of lockdown but there are people taking advantage of that situation. To counter that there are both short and long term strategies being formed, it’s a constant conversation. As always resources are the main issue so it’s a matter of doing one’s best in a world where the priorities for wildlife and habitat protection are still far too low.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ways to change those priorities. Yes, the pandemic has raised the issue to a noisy head but it remains to be seen if that is really followed through with action. After all, there were plenty of good people issuing warnings about our destruction of nature well before the covid-19 outbreak.

To me the only long term viable long term solution is grass roots education. I’ve written before how impressed I am with the kids in the Living with Big Cats wildlife classes, their passion to learn and understand. It continually gives me hope. It’s been interesting talking to Tharu friends here on the Terai, they have a yearning to return to simpler ways when in actual fact so many were living very simply anyway with very little impact on the environment.

That brings to mind another irony I’ve been thinking about lately. Many people involved in poaching at the actual ground level live simply with that little impact I’m talking about. Upper levels of traders and organized crime groups are of course caught up in consumerism just like so much of the rest of the world. Wildlife protection itself at ground level is mostly conducted by people living quite simply, I thought about this yesterday as I looked at the footwear of the two guys on the jungle track in front of me, my own shoes also in a state of disrepair. Yet these are the very people it’s easy to get to understand the importance of ecosystems even if it’s at a very basic non academic level. That raises the question of how we educate, what are the best ways to communicate the conservation message.

I sometimes imagine what the world would be like if ‘ecosystem’ was the God of words, the most important word in the world. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone did an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on their every action? Sometimes I wonder who the real poachers are … by that I mean I think if everyone got given a personal environmental footprint report card it would reflect a deep truth and a lot of hypocrisy.

While there’s so much going on in the meantime, it actually seems busier than ever, I am looking forward to when the wildlife classes start again so we can ask the kids these questions, what they think about consumerism and the impact it has on the environment, on our planet, on our health, on the wild animals we are teaching them about. The future of community is these children but the messages they get now can shape community even before that future. If a child can understand the importance of the leopard, the importance of all wild animals and their place in ecosystems then community must benefit, it’s a very simple solution but it does require good management. Good management means getting the right people involved, those people don’t need expensive footwear, they just need some.

Perhaps my vision of a dedicated wildlife school here in Bardiya isn’t a pipe dream … watch this space.

Education, education, education … community.

Appended 5 May 2020

An alarming amount of poaching reports hitting my inboxes at the moment. I’m prioritizing replies based on urgency at the moment so if I haven’t got back to you then my apologies but I will. I think it’s fair to say our dysfunctional relationship with nature is really being shown up right now.

Appended 6 May 2020

Finding that people who really care about leopards really care about nature…

A leopard is treated in Maharashtra after it was caught in a poacher’s snare. File photo – Incident 486 – 26/04/2020

Lockdown across South Asia has changed social fabric in many ways. In my world I’m getting contact from people who now have time to reflect more than usual and much of that has been concern about the plight of the leopard. Most of the contact regarding actual coexistence situations has come from India with some from Nepal and Pakistan. As usual it is mainly people asking for help rather than offering it but that’s ok, that’s normal. I’ll be able to update soon on how we can offer assistance particularly regarding human – leopard conflict mitigation based on the Living with Big Cats model we are working on. There’s a long way to go and there is no ending as such, it’s a quest to improve, every single day.

There’s also been the usual communications with those who already deeply care and are actively involved in leopard conservation or support it. Small in number but good people. It is however many of these new contacts which are intriguing me, they are showing the depth of knowledge, spirit and concern that is needed as conflict incidents and poaching cases continue to be reported in worrying numbers. What I find in general is that people who are genuinely concerned about what is happening to the leopard, particularly in South Asia, is they are truly worried about what is happening to nature in general, far beyond the usual conservation paradigms which are so much about icon species such as tiger and rhino. There is a genuine concern on a humane level because of the brutality and numbers regarding leopard deaths plus an understanding of the tragedy when people lose their lives, particularly children. I’ve seen so many times the ways communities are affected when this happens and how rational behaviour can go out the window very quickly as retaliation becomes a focus. It is easy to understand the drive for safety in these circumstances.

Communities are the key. As we develop our model I feel hope. Awareness and education can and do reduce fatalities on both sides. It needs people who genuinely care to run these programs, it needs people who genuinely care to support these programs.

Community is not just a small village struggling to coexist with big cats, it is the global gathering of minds and there has been a lot of deep thinking these last few weeks, a lot of exclamation as to how we must change the way we live due to the impact of covid-19. . The test is now on an individual basis who are just talking the talk and who will actually change their lifestyles for the good of nature. Support for a secretive but highly important animal such as the leopard will be a mark of that test.

In the next update I’ll have more on how we’ve had to adjust our own thinking and actions. I do feel hope because of progress but the roll out can only happen if there is far greater understanding, from a small village community to the global community.

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…

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.