Leopards and fires…

It was an eerie feeling early this morning being in an area I know so well as the fire finally burnt itself out apart from a few little flames here and there. The Leopard Refuge Station itself was ok, it has survived many things including wild elephants and floods, now this. Repairs will start straight away, renovations had been delayed anyway. We’ll have to act quickly, we’re into that time when conflict spikes due to water shortages. A juvenile leopardess was seen leaving the burnt area close to these images, heading towards the buffer zone, I hope the fire hasn’t meant she’s been separated from her mother. The fire will mean prey will congregate where there is vegetation, this could mean tension between predators as various animals seek food in new territories. This is not good news for leopards which are already under pressure from tigers and humans. The fires have meant big changes in plans, that is what it is, adaptability is key when every big cat is precious. Nepal is burning, sometimes I wonder when it’s not, the literal and the metaphor mixed in a country with many challenges…

The Boss, a leopard doing his best for a species up against it…

The top is The Boss, the bottom at the same location, is one of his girlfriends and I’ve put boxes around two tiny offspring. This isn’t the post I’d planned, I’ll have more about these particular leopards at a later date but it’s been a really rough start for leopards in India and Nepal for 2021 based on poaching/seizure data for the first 3 months. It’s actually 18 years to the day since a seizure of 109 leopard skins in Kathmandu, I was in the region, it happened at a time when the armed conflict was still peaking, a type of civil war which changed the country. For the leopard however, not much has changed, it is still persecuted, it is still a conservation blind spot, it is still an animal very few care about and the task of trying to get the species a fair deal is extremely hard. Getting to understand leopards such as The Boss is learning how hard it is for these animals, what they are up against and those who have followed my own efforts (and I thank you) know that I have tried as hard as I can to see the world through the eyes of the leopard, I do my best to create a picture of what is really happening. The Boss operates in a difficult environment, he has tigers on one side, humans on the other, he walks a fine line. He has I believe 3 girlfriends in his territory plus possibly now a 4th after a remarkable relationship with a young female in rehabilitation, now free, something I put a lot of heart and soul into. So the story of The Boss is a compelling one, he does have the advantage of living mainly in protected area but for many leopards there’s no such luxury, poachers operate with impunity, leopard bones, claws, teeth and skins are of value in a messed up economy created by man. Other leopards are killed in retaliation simply because they are misunderstood, they are just trying to survive in a world beyond their control. The two tiny cubs you see here face an uncertain future, their story is yet to unfold, some of us are trying very hard to make sure they can have that story. This year I’ll be story telling about different leopards in the hope you become part of that effort…

Warnings given, not heeded … the result of that, tragedy

I’ve made a couple of light hearted posts today with images about #BardiaLife at Facebook but there are times to keep it real. In this coexistence situation, you can see the two images from the same camera at different times (note the light), the reference point being the cut branches on the bottom left of each image. Understanding behaviour dynamics of both wildlife and people is key to how we can improve coexistence but once again, big cats will only modify behaviour if we do. The area this happened isn’t far away from the most recent fatality, we did give a lot of warnings, sadly they were not heeded. As much as I would love to spend time taking pictures of pretty animals etc, talking about ‘I love nature’ and all that stuff, that actually isn’t conservation. If I’m going to be raw and real about it from the coexistence perspective, for many of us conservation is about stopping big cats and people from killing each other and those of you who follow my posts on this know there is a lot of improvement needed. We’re trying. More on this soon very much from the perspective of the most persecuted entity in all this, the leopard.

Big cat behaviour dictated by ours…

Something touched on many times before, you can see the lack of protection in the enclosure, a situation where tied up livestock has no chance against a leopard or a tiger. The more opportunity we give, the more big cats take, who can blame them for killing cattle in these circumstances, much easier than hunting spotted deer etc. It leads to habituation and too often of late, tragedy. With water shortages, pressure on habitat due to human activity as well as a myriad of other factors it’s more important than ever we decrease opportunity. The images here are at a location not that far from where there was the most recent human fatality, there’s a whole range of big cat dynamics at play here, I’ll describe that more at a later date as monitoring continues.

From the jungle, happy Holi, happy coexistence

Tigers aren’t Hindu, last night one attacked a cow close by where this picture was taken, we’ll work on getting ID of that cat but another incident early this morning where a man (badly injured but ok) was attacked by tiger in many ways sums things up. The man went into the forest too early, it was still tiger time and the result was conflict. We’ve been really busy getting coexistence guidelines out, the attack was another example as I alluded to yesterday in a post, of someone operating outside that thinking. We have to reduce that, education, education, education is the key. I really hope there are no more fatalities this year, it’s been a difficult time, I believe we can do it, it’s very much about people buying into the process of doing the right thing and while it will never be perfect, it can be a case of Happy Coexistence.

Human – tiger conflict: Another incident just waiting to happen…

It was really disappointing this morning to get news that people were still illegally entering a jungle area where recently someone had been killed by a tiger. I got the news as an anti-poaching team was showing me where a tigress with two small cubs, maybe only two or three months old, had been frequently using a fire line very close to the range post. There are few animals on the planet which will react more violently to disturbance than a tiger with offspring.

Seeing and hearing all this I got that same sinking feeling I’ve had before where despite constant warnings of an attack, someone will soon be taken. I’ve expressed my frustration many times before in the context that so many attacks could have been avoided if people modified their behaviour. I contacted one my team, we’ll help with cameras and monitoring in late afternoon and we’ve been busy getting guidelines into the community, trying to effect social change. The area I’m referring to is a hotspot, there’s not just been this recent fatality on top of many in the area, it’s also had snare trap issues including the horrible death of another tigress.

The issue here is not tigers entering human areas, it’s people entering tiger areas. Although there can be cross over in shared space dynamics, where I was this morning was protected area, restricted access and cut off from tourism activity. I know the area well through a leopard project and it has had problems of disturbance as local people forage for livestock fodder outside designated zones. Once again, economic and livelihood issues come into the equation but sadly, above all, it is this reluctance to adhere to guidelines and in many cases blatantly break the law.

It has a serious ripple effect. People and big cats have died, tigers have gone to jail. All of this is preventable or at least can be markedly reduced. Education is the ultimate answer, it’s the big solution but change is slow and this current situation represents that.

Teams risk their lives protecting the forest. Patrolling is becoming increasingly dangerous and what many people don’t seem to understand is that it isn’t just about protecting the wildlife needed for ecosystems to function, it’s about the safety of people living in these places, living with big cats isn’t easy. Extra effort, at a time when resources are already stressed, ,will go into the location I’ve just described … watch this space.

Coexistence guidelines as human – big cat conflict continues

There’s more details re the guidelines at WildTiger but with 2 children killed by leopard in the last few days in Katarniaghat it brings the human fatality toll in the Bardiya/Banke/Katarniaghat area to 30 since the start of 2019.

There’s been a lot of misinformation on media and social media but 3 tigers have been captured for holding, one of which has escaped.

We’ll have an update at WildTiger in early April but for me personally, the frustrating thing is that, as I’ve mentioned many times before, so many of these deaths could have been prevented if people had modified their behaviour and adhered to guidelines which have been recommended for some time now. We’re busy distributing guidelines in the area including to schools, I strongly feel this is the best approach, children are strong messengers. I’ll have more on that in the blog post I make in a few days about a leopard called ‘The Boss’ but a recent fatality where a woman was killed by a tiger in an area I know very well was especially frustrating as for more than 2 years we had been giving warnings, sent in reports and generally tried to get people to understand that fatalities were inevitable unless there was human behaviour change. All we can hope now is that people do understand, it’s sad that people have to die before that happens.

Appended later in the day:

Sushila and the team give guidelines out at schools as WildTiger and CBAPU (Community Based Anti Poaching Unit) coordinate with school principals in highly affected areas.

So to continue the post, that’s Hemanta explaining the guidelines and a section of one of the communities as we continue communications in different hotspots. Like I’ve said, coexistence isn’t rocket science, it just needs cooperation, common sense and care but above all the understanding that it is people’s behaviour which must change. More on the whole situation soon.

So finally today in this episode of #junglelife, someone turned 9 years old. Ridam is my leopard conservation buddy, she speaks 3 languages and yeah, she cares about what is happening to leopards. The birthday was such a nice quiet, peaceful passing round of fruit, Ridam preparing Tika for her family and of course the cake made by internationally famous cake, coffee and ice cream maker, Ramesh, the pride of Thakurdwara. Anyway, the little Tharu birthday capped off a day which was very much about people and coexistence because it doesn’t matter how many cameras are set, how many pug marks are found or how many tourist jeeps go into the national park looking for tigers, we must make this thing people centric where locals are given every opportunity to learn and be safe with the big cats and other wild animals here.

Bardia is safe… if you do the right thing…

A quick note on this, seems congruent with my caffeine levels. Bardia has been getting a bad rep lately mainly due to misinformed media and social media, not unusual I know. Yes, sure, the human fatality rate since about the start of 2019 in the Bardia/Banke/Katarniaghat is very concerning, I’m talking about the number of people killed by tiger. I’m going into further detail on this later in the year but the critical point is nearly all these deaths could have been avoided and a lot of work is going in to increase prevention. Human error seems like a light term to use when someone is killed by a tiger, a traumatic event for everyone connected to it but behaviour change by our species is the key to serious conflict mitigation.

Disturbance has serious ramifications but it’s not rocket science to understand the solutions. In the image is a sign at a checkpoint where motorbikes must now convoy through an area where there was a fatal attack. I’ve been through there several times now since the attack, and yes, there is a distinct feeling one must be wary but the strategy works and in the main I feel authorities have done a good job in this situation. Several different big cats have been involved in attacks in different parts of the region but tigers and leopards are not at fault, it is us who must adapt. The more we adapt, the risk reduces markedly. Living with big cats will always have its challenges, it has to be accepted that incidents are inevitable.

Visitors to Bardia are safe. The incidents that are occurring are entirely connected to livelihood and lifestyle at local levels. Disturbance as a dynamic still needs a lot of work, the recent issues with noise and rubbish are part of that, let’s not pretend that respect for wildlife is uniform here, far from it but effort is going in. Visitors can come here and enjoy Bardia in safety, hopefully they are learning what a critical landscape this place is.

I leave Bardia soon, I’ll talk about that in ‘The Boss’ blog shortly, this place has a big part in my heart as does the new mountain area base I’m going to as part of a continuing focus on #AntiSnare. I’ve given several years to try and understand the problems here better, that learning helps in project support and implementation which will continue in this land of the tiger.

#AntiSnare – Lack of urgency highlights the hypocrisy

The prime of life female leopard you can see here snared in a jaw trap didn’t survive, she died as a result of her injuries earlier this year in Maha. At the moment I’m in liaison with several orgs and individuals gaining understanding of the extent of the problem in South Asia. What we already know is that the situation is bad, in many ways it parallels South East Asia a few years ago where the ongoing problem has decimated wildlife to a degree that ecosystems are unstable. While there is effort from anti-poaching units to combat this considering the resources available, unless there is a greater degree of urgency, particularly here on the Indian subcontinent then the same outcome as SE Asia is inevitable.

At the moment there is a lack of urgency. I was shocked at the lack of reaction here in west Nepal when a small boy was badly injured after getting his hand caught in a snare. The child was simply performing a chore, out cutting grass for the family livestock. The incident should have caused outrage and intense follow up. Instead it seems snares are almost accepted and even if it is not condoned the situation is basically viewed as somebody else’s problem.

Having witnessed leopards caught in snares I’m aware of the brutality and agony of the situation so maybe I come from a deeper place of concern. Hypocrisy is truly evident however when those who talk a big game in wildlife conservation, many of whom ride the coat tails financially, show little or no care about the snare situation. Everyone is happy to ooh and ahh over nice photos of tigers but when it comes to a non money maker like the leopard being caught in snares, dying brutal deaths, there is pretty much a shrugging of shoulders and moving on.

For me the hypocrisy was heightened a few days ago when in my own patch I came across a lack of concern at the extent of broken glass in an area a tiger is now moving frequently. Those who follow my social media know we have a plan in place to hopefully fix this situation but once again it was an eye opener as to who really cares about what. I further felt the hypocrisy as we alerted a group of the ‘Living with Big Cats’ kids and enlisted their help in the clean up as well as educating them regarding the problem. I wondered just what right our generations have to educate anyone when we are so negligent and it was no surprise to me the kids were seriously concerned, something I barely see in adults.

The frustration is that there are solutions, it just requires concern and effort. Bardia is a place where it all happens, poaching, serious conflict and constant issues regarding habitat encroachment. There is also intense effort to protect the core area which has some of the highest tiger density habitat in Asia but this is being undone by the problems outside the protected area which in itself is difficult enough to maintain anyway. I’ll have more about those issues in a blog about a leopard called ‘The Boss’ soon, his story pretty much sums up the situation.

I’m not sure people truly understand the extent of biodiversity loss and the ramifications, there is no excuse not to and there is no excuse not to take individual responsibility. People who have been in this game a long time are shaking their heads at what is happening, that saddens me as I know the effort that has gone in. There are still gains being made, time will tell if there will be a groundswell of urgency and effort to recover and secure what is needed … and some of the measures of that will surely be far less incidents like the one in the image. I firmly believe vital top predators such as tiger and leopard have a future, it’s just that I’m not sure how widespread they can truly be, sadly I have lost a lot of faith in current generations really understanding the importance of all this. Time will tell, the only certainty is the next generations have their work cut out…

A short preview to a leopard called ‘The Boss’

So the sign that ‘The Boss’ was back in the area this morning led me on different tracks this afternoon for a few hours and eventually what I was hoping for, scat. As I’ve mentioned here and at other platforms, more later in the month about this magnificent leopard whose life in many ways sums up the challenges for his species. I’ve tried hard in the last few years to create more understanding about what is going on for leopards in South Asia, I’m hoping that a bit about The Boss’s life will grow that and mean more people choose to support protection of these animals. I think letting the stories of individual leopards themselves be the vehicle for change in attitude, well I hope so, I really do…

UPDATE 24 February – More soon on ‘The Boss’ but a short post HERE as the snare crisis in South Asia continues.