Leopard poaching, the cases keep rolling in…

Earlier this morning I made this tweet, look at it then read on below it…

So don’t get me wrong, poaching is still a hell of an issue. The image is from yet another case in Odisha, I got informed last night and details are still coming but there was one arrest. When I’m not in the jungle I’m currently pouring a lot of time into the databases, a colleague and I in conjunction with other agencies are involved in case follow up, it’s part of #antisnare that justice is done because so many times it isn’t. Leopard poaching cases in India and Nepal are up on last year, the situation is chronic, everyday there are reports of leopards dying in different ways. 2020 was supposed to be the start of the decade where we improved things from the last 3 decades when thousands of leopards have been killed but as in the trajectory with wildlife in general it’s a bad start. I’ll be honest, it disgusts me, it also disgusts me more people don’t want to help this cat. People ask me how I cope, my jungle time really helps, it clears my head, especially with the leopard rehab situation, that requires absolute focus but I’m human, this thing does affect me because I have huge regard leopards, I know first hand what incredible creatures they are. I’m not going to hide from it though, that in itself is a huge problem in that there are not enough people with the courage to really face the wildlife crisis, there are too many people playing games. The only other thing which keeps me going is the knowledge we can turn this round … there’s no doubt the next ten years is the deal breaker though…

Appended later in the day:

Jungle heat, jungle medicine, ant attack, respect… and Attenborough warns again

It’s the back end of monsoon but there’s no rain, nothing to break a humidity that is incredibly energy sapping. Yesterday after only a couple of hours in the jungle I staggered back to my motorbike, I couldn’t believe how drained I was. At a Range Post I could see the sunken eyes of a game scout who leads anti-poaching patrols, he was shattered, spare a thought for those teams working in these conditions for just a few dollars a day.

I’m super vigilant about treating leech and insect bites these days to ward off infection. A few years ago I had to do long days in monsoon getting things started at the Leopard Refuge Station, I would only wear a pair of shorts, it was just so hot, I got hammered by mosquitoes and others, in the end my friend Ian made the trip from Pokhara with medical supplies which got me through. I usually use a menthol based treatment for bites but during one of their recent trips here (pre covid of course) Bernd and family supplied me a couple of tubes of the medicine you can see in the image. It’s awesome and for the first monsoon ever I haven’t had to use bandages. A couple of days ago while attending a camera I was a bit blurry eyed because of the heat and some red ants decided I was worth checking out, I had to run to a nearby stream to get rid of them, got stuck in mud getting out of it, ah the fun and games of the jungle. The German medicine worked a treat though and although red ants aren’t as vicious as bull ants in Australia (they really are bastards, the bull ants I mean, not Australians) they do give a nasty bite. There’s also another tiny ant prevalent at the moment, it likes my white boy skin too but once again, that medicine has been great for everything including my old buddies, leeches.

Speaking of health it’s just so disappointing the amount of people who won’t wear masks or respect social distancing. Sure neither of these two things will stop the virus on their own but they do really help and it also comes down to respect for others. Here in Nepal it’s easy to see why authorities are really worried about what will happen when winter hits, I suspect it’s going to be a hell of a time for the country, I’m not sure people will start showing more respect. It’s a global issue, mask wearing etc, there are just still so many people who simply do not understand what a pandemic is and how covid has transmission rates far higher than different types of flu.

In many ways the lack of understanding isn’t surprising. The Living Planet report a few days ago detailed what so many in the wildlife conservation sector have been warning, biodiversity is getting smashed. It was interesting last night getting messages from around the world about David Attenborough’s latest effort to give warning. I feel sorry for people like Attenborough, Jane Goodall etc, their frustration is showing, it’s this whole issue of when will people understand. It’s frustrating for all of us who are trying and as a 60 million year old who is one of them I’m going to come right out and say it … we told you so.

It’s not too late but it’s getting close to that, I’m hopeful but worried. If people can’t even have the sense to wear a mask, use social distance and understand why there are such problems as a coronavirus caused by our breakdown with nature then the future is very uncertain.

I’ll have a update later this month as Living with Big Cats, #AntiSnare and Ecosystem Reboot evolve in our covid world as well as more soon about an orca and a leopard.

Big cat kids to help an orca return home

Thank you for reading this and please do watch the video as well. At a time when wildlife is under such incredible pressure because of human actions this project is making a powerful statement.

A few days ago my friends Jeff and Katy, whale conservationists who do their work with incredible dedication and passion, contacted me about an orca whose real name is Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. The video tells the basic story and there’s been updates which we will bring soon.

Essentially Jeff and Katy asked if we would like to be involved by having the wildlife kids perform a ceremony to help make sure Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut is returned to where this magnificent orca should be. Of course we said yes and we are honoured to be part of this. The Lummi tribe have a deep spiritual connection to orcas, they are family and in many ways this is the same message we are communicating to the kids here in Bardia, that these very special wild animals, leopard, tiger, rhino, elephant, all of them are part of our family.

The ceremony takes place on 24 September. I deeply believe that the return of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut to the place of family is incredibly important at a time where every single one of us has to examine our treatment of wildlife, our connection to nature and our questioning of our own individual spirit so as to realign and do the right thing…

More to come on this before the ceremony. Please now watch the video.

Strong positives as wildlife kids influence the community regarding coexistence…

Next month in the main update at WildTiger there will be more about collaborations, support and people involved but an attack by a tiger on a man in a rice field in a buffer zone area today heightened the need for good communication and understanding. This year so far in the Bardia/Banke/Katarniaghat area there has only been one fatality after the 2019 toll stretched well into double figures. Obviously lockdowns etc influence the dynamics but there is no doubt there is progress. In a meeting with Manju and SuSeLa (image) this morning we talked about how the kids are talking to their families, explaining their knowledge, creating understanding. Where we were sitting that village has had two very active leopards of late but the communication which has developed as a result of the kid’s program has meant everyone has stayed safe. As well as that, even small children know the different cat names whereas before all those species were known as bagh (tiger). Now they are fully aware of leopards and jungle cats etc, the differences, this understanding is vital for coexistence. We’re adapting to the new normal and next month we will be explaining more about a new system where there are ‘learning bubbles’ where kids can learn safely with tablets, the first of which are being supplied with the kind help of the Yeti Nepal Trust (New Zealand). I have a lot of faith in the processes we have thought through as we move forward. It’s a different world now and the challenges of human and wildlife coexistence have evolved with that. We are evolving with it and although there will be always be incidents we know that with positive change the safety of people and wildlife can increase.

Appended later in the day:

BLAME 5G (IF YOU MUST BLAME SOMETHING) AND NOT LEOPARDS… Once again many thanks to those who care about the situations I write about. A lot of jungle stuff needing to be done in the next couple of weeks so if I don’t reply straight away it doesn’t mean I don’t love you but there is a chance I may have missed a few messages re Living with Big Cats so please send me a reminder. In our new world there’s a lot more Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp going on, I noticed that according to the screen I have a white dot on my nose, shiny ears and the bottom of my beard glows like a glowing thing. It’s not because I’m 600 years old because I’m still only 599 but I will be older by the next time I post (?). Maybe it’s because of 5G because you know, according to some people 5G is responsible for so much including covid-19, the new world order, the price of ice cream. Whatever, I don’t mind, I’m just pleased leopards aren’t getting the blame, they normally get the blame for everything… even Barcelona getting absolutely smashed by Bayern M. I don’t know what “I blame 5G!” is in Spanish but I’m sure someone said it…

When does human -wildlife conflict become crime?

So when do human-wildlife conflict incidents become crime? In following up on cases/incidents this becomes a key question. Based on 2019-20 (to date) single leopard body parts seizures across India and Nepal indicate a leopard death just over every two days. Obviously the real poaching intensity is much higher as seizures are only an indicator and then needs to be added collateral catch (leopards caught in snares set for wild meat species such as deer and boar) plus retaliation kills which are part of human-wildlife conflict which is when the situation becomes grey. This issue is part of what will be in the ‘Living with Big Cats’ and #AntiSnare updates at WildTiger next month, it’s importance with regard to tolerance levels, coexistence strategies, law (policy), investigation and judiciary cannot be underplayed. The link to the article ‘Levels of conflict over wildlife: Understanding and addressing the right problem’ is HERE.

A learning encounter with a tiger, a fallen giant, turning 60 and some mango kindness

I’ll come to the encounter with the tiger two days ago further down the page because what I write before that is relevant to that learning. It wasn’t lost on me yesterday that my granddaughter’s 1st birthday on 15 August (yesterday) was Independence Day in India. In a post I made at Facebook yesterday (embedded at the bottom of this post) the photo was for my granddaughter, I want to meet her before she turns two. The words were about Nepal, in the hope that this incredibly important nation from an environmental aspect retains its true independence and strengthens. Anyone who truly cares about the region will be aware of the geopolitics at play, it’s very much about water. The two most populous countries in the world not only share Nepal’s borders, they are conscious and deeply involved in the future of Nepal’s watersheds. There’s a lot at stake, all three countries know it as well as those countries with political alliances with China, India and Nepal. Events of recent times are shifting and shaping alliances, this is a critical time.

Almost like a metaphor for this an excess of water in many parts of our jungle area has meant unstable ground, giant trees have fallen. Huge sal trees plus other vegetation find their roots struggling to cling on in their watery beds. You can get a feel for the size of a fallen giant as a security camera I test captures me next to it. The massive tree now takes on another vital ecological role as part of biomass. The nutrients provided to the soil and the new found home for ants and other insects (which provide food for birds and many ground dwelling species, part of the ecosystem at work) mean this tree is still a fundamental part of nature and it needs to be left there. This is the difference between a protected area and those which are either unprotected or harvested under management, strict or loose.

Unfortunately there are those who disobey the rules and illegal logging and wood collection is as serious a problem as wildlife poaching. Normally tigers use this area as a pass through, part of a path to other hunting grounds but a reduction in disturbance has meant a recovery of prey base and it now seems a strong young male striped cat is looking to become resident. I’ve monitored his presence for about three weeks and two days ago I saw him. I was treading carefully after detecting early sign, then there was a warning growl followed by a brief eyeballing with about 40 metres between us. I had been on my way to check a piece of non-invasive equipment but I quickly changed my plan and from this point I’m modifying all movement needed for security of the area. Camera data had already shown this tiger using the same path as some local women who had permits to forage. The problem is a resource one for locals but this needs to be examined and it is. Sometimes the rules are not followed, permits are not sought, the entry is illegal and the parts of the jungle removed equals illegal activity.

A report was made, the authorities have acted quickly and now it is down to people doing the right thing. Sometimes compromise is necessary but this tiger is simply going about his business as the big cat population stabilizes and new territory with adequate prey is needed. It’s a sensitive zone, not a place for tourism, there needs to be places where wildlife can go about their lives with as little disturbance as possible. That is how robust ecosystems are rebuilt. I’m not sure how many people truly understand this or realize how much work goes into it. This is what we are trying to teach the children here so that they become the guardians of this philosophy and work.

As I approach my sixtieth birthday I look forward to the day when I can start passing on these stories and messages to my granddaughter. Like that tiger I am also examining my territory and how that unfolds. I am not one to gallivant around the world although I have been fortunate to have seen many places. My own environmental footprint is important to me, keeping it as low as possible and understanding a place intimately so as to be effective. That’s just my way. There is such an opportunity for change as more and more people understand that the pre covid world was suffering far too much damage by humans. Sadly there are those who simply refuse to understand or listen to this message, the next ten years will be pivotal. A country like Nepal can have a major role in stabilizing the desires of huge powers and like that tiger finding territory plus a man turning 60 there must be open minds for change but at the same time never forgetting that without healthy nature our struggles will increase.

Protected areas are fundamental to this. Let them be, undisturbed and natural but at the same time do whatever it takes to keep these jewels safe.

Finally a bit of mango kindness. Although our area is in a designated emergency phase due to covid, with communication and planning I managed to be the one to pick up some assignments finished by the wildlife kids. In a little mud and bamboo kitchen at a Tharu house I was offered some mango. It was such a simple pleasure and much appreciated at a time when things are difficult. I thank all those who help in any way, you make a difference…

On World Elephant Day I’m posting a photo of a fishing cat … why?

On World Elephant Day I’m posting a photo I took of a fishing cat. “Why Jack, Why? Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why?” you ask. Ok, settle down, shut up and listen. We’ve just had tiger day. We’ve just lion day. We’re always having days. Yet tigers and lions are barely hanging on. Asian elephants are in trouble in many places as are African elephants. These three species are what are known as icon species and from a conservation standpoint they are part of a strategy where they are designated umbrella species, that is using the premise of protect the icon then everything in their habitat is protected. Well guess what … “what Jack what?” … I hear you say, ok we’ve been through that, just be quiet and read. The umbrella species protection strategy is full of holes, it is far from being a full proof model. As someone who spends most of his time on leopards, believe me. Little defended species like fishing cats are in real trouble because their habitat is so degraded in many places, even in so called protected areas. The big pointer in all this is the panda (ironic when you consider it as an emblem) which has more money spent on it than wontons eaten in an average day in Wuhan (a lot). In the Panda’s range the leopard and wolf have almost disappeared. I say forget these ‘days’ when all of a sudden everybody starts telling everyone else to save this, save that while doing very little themselves. Instead, every day should be wildlife day and we quietly but determinedly get on with protecting everything we can…

Link to article in PHYS.ORG – Leopards, wolves vanishing from panda conservation areas: study

#Antisnare #leopard – A short note regarding dynamics of the snare crisis

Just a quick note on the #leopard which died of snare injuries and was found in Karnataka yesterday, it was dead when found, there was some initial confusion about this. Although snares are known to be set in the area around NTR targeting bushmeat it can never be ruled out that leopard was the target. This is where thorough investigation makes a big difference. If it can be ascertained the snare was set on a regular leopard path then the thinking around the poaching incident has to move away from just a bushmeat case. As I’ve mentioned before we don’t post every incident, there’s too many plus some need to be kept out of media/social media. These posts are simply so people can understand the dynamics. These are tough times and bushmeat while being a direct food source for some is also a business. Collateral catch of leopard or high value (black market) wildlife is a serious side effect.

Later this month we’ll have a comprehensive overview of the situation at WildTiger, for now you can read previous posts at this site to get some understanding.

“The Leopard and the Snare” – excellent video plus comment

“They are not doing anything harmful.  They are just moving through the landscape and getting killed.”

These are the words you’ll hear in this investigation released in Sri Lanka in the last few hours.  Although the video mainly deals with the problem on the island it references some of the other issues in South Asia in general, these issues are especially relevant to India and Nepal.

Yesterday at the Leopard Refuge Station I had a brief encounter with the leopard there.  Normally if I have to work there she stays hidden, that is how we have set up the station but yesterday we stared at each other for about 1 minute.  I had replaced a platform for her the day before, it had collapsed in the floods, cameras showed she was happy to use it, she seemed calm which is why she maybe showed a little tolerance to my being there.  I was captivated by her beauty even though of course I have seen her many times both live and in camera.  It pains me that release is too risky for her and the safety of others but the plan for her makes sense, I want her to be an educational tool in so much as we connect her through technology to the kid’s program and beyond. 

My overriding thought was the tragedy that humans are killing these magnificent animals in such disturbing numbers by targeting for trade, retaliation kills, collateral catch (snares set for bushmeat) and trophy hunting.  Add all this to shrinking habitat and the leopard is up against yet as in the quote at the top of this post, it is an animal just going about its way and has doen its best to adapt to our intrusion.

As far as the targeting of leopards for illegal wildlife trade is concerned, this is why wildlife criminals such as Kunjoc Lama (previous posts)  need to be behind bars, he alone has been linked to the deaths of 100s of big cats.  This is why I am dedicated to seeing justice done, if we just continue to lock up low level poachers we will not reduce the carnage.

The treatment of wildlife is under scrutiny like never before, that in itself is a positive but will only remain so if there is a huge change of attitude and much more dedication and support for action…

Appended:

Quick #AntiSnare update – Just another quick thing, there’s actually been a lot more messages than I expected about the Kunjok Lama case, that has surprised me a bit. To be honest, most people don’t want to talk about it so I’m really pleased there are those who are genuinely concerned. I know that being so open about something like this on a public forum is unusual because wildlife crime mafias are what they are. But there comes a time when we have to be more brazen and say enough is enough. I’m going to have more about this at my blogspot when #AntiSnare  which has a bottom to top approach is updated at WildTiger because just locating snares is not enough, the whole illegal thread has to be disrupted, it’s the only way the carnage will be reduced. To reiterate, Kunjok Lama has petitioned the high court for release on bail and as has been made clear by events in the past the likelihood of him absconding is high if bail is granted. We will know more soon, the work continues and this upcoming period of time is crucial. There’s a whole backstory to this, that will be told when the time is appropriate. Once again, I thank those who genuinely care, we are a small team when it comes to that but that does not mean we are not powerful, we are…

#AntiSnare – It’s not just about locating snares, it’s the whole process and attitude which is a huge problem…

This particular case (image above) was/is bloody infuriating, it happened on our doorstep and has kept me awake at night because it pretty much sums up the whole situation. Quoting from Tufan Neupane’s recent article (link at bottom of this post): “Seizure of tiger pelts and bones in Kailali in 2018 with those accused. Six of the eight arrested were Indian, and released on bail by a district court. They immediately escaped to India.” Case collapse is something we monitor closely particularly with regard to leopard, it’s not just a problem in Nepal because South Asia has serious issues which are in fact reflected globally, every single of nation on earth could do better combating wildlife crime. That reflects on citizens everywhere, it reflects on OUR generations, it reflects on YOU and ME. There is tiny minority fighting our guts out but as a collective, to be honest, the effort is still not good enough.
There is hype that tiger numbers have stabilized in some countries but as I mentioned yesterday, the initial population base was so low it is far too early to be popping champagne corks. So if some time this month I post the scenario, and this could happen despite best efforts to stop it, that Kunjok Lama has been released on bail, what will happen? As I also said yesterday, wildlife, especially big cats will die, something which is already happening. There are so many people who could be doing more to help but most will treat the scenario with stupid little sad faced emojis. As I also tweeted yesterday we have to minimize the chance of Lama being released but we have to treat the whole problem with much more effort. If you don’t understand why by now, then please, go crawl back under the rock you are hiding under, there’s been more than enough awareness, there is not enough listening followed by support/action. In their recent report on the snare crisis in South East Asia, WWF were right, the solutions go well beyond locating snares. The problem goes well beyond SE Asia, it is our treatment of wildlife in general. The article from Tufan is ‘Lax laws make Nepal haven for tiger poachers’ with link HERE and the full WWF report (SE Asia snare crisis) can be linked from HERE but before you read them first go back and look at those tiger skins seized in Kailali, we are all responsible for that and the fact justice is not getting done in so many cases. So how the hell do those of us fighting this stuff carry on?
In a pissed off manner that the world is not really listening, people and governments including many, many orgs and individuals who could be doing more, that’s how…

Appended:

So just one final word on this for now, as a can of worms is opening regarding this whole situation, this collage is also from Tufan’s article (see above) with the caption “Konjuk Lama was named in numerous seizures of tiger parts in Nepal and India, and was finally caught in Kathmandu on 25 June. But like high profile smugglers caught in the past, he may be released soon by Nepal’s courts.”
The key to all this now, as the accused seeks bail by petitioning the high court, is the right people in the right places do their job. WildTiger remains committed in our efforts to help make that happen. The lives of many leopards, tigers and other wildlife are at stake…