Joining the dots as a high profile tiger/leopard trafficker seeks out…

The image is another leopard skin seized in Odisha this week. It’s ridiculous how many cases there are as the seizure/incident toll soars close to 200 this year across India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I repeat, again, this is only an indicator of the true total, a drop in the bucket, the truth is no one knows how many leopards and tigers are killed each year.

This is why recent developments in the Kunjok Lama case are even more vital. You can read the timeline and key points at WildTiger but yesterday’s development in which Lama petitioned the Supreme Court under habeas corpus was highly irregular considering the case was not heard at the High Court thus there was no verdict. With rumblings that the SC will hear the case during Dashain festival there are serious worries that Kunjoc will be released. The arresting and prosecuting authorities submit their reply to the Supreme Court tomorrow and then it is simply up to a judge to decide what happens next to a man who is linked to the deaths of 100s of big cats.

The wildlife trafficking networks in South Asia are complicated and of course are attached to tentacles which grip the globe. What isn’t complicated is the fact that there are key players, kingpins, the guys who are rarely arrested. Sure, the jails are providing a roof over the heads over quite a few poachers and low level traders but those guys (and some not guys) are dime a dozen, they are easily replaced, poaching does not stop. The key is to stop mid and high level traders, the brains behind distribution networks which may or may not be linked to other forms of trafficking including narcotics, weapons and people.

The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal have compelling evidence that Kunjoc Lama is one of those people and if the system allows his release then the lives of many leopards and tigers will be at further risk. As I say, there are details at WildTiger but for now I want to say personally that the time and effort of people involved in seeing this case through to a just end is one hundred percent and I thank those who understand and support. However as always, results are so much dependent on resources which are always stretched. The next few days will again put that to the test as Kunjoc Lama’s future plays out. If, as is the worry, his sphere of influence (and own resources) means the out he is seeking actually happens, it will be incredibly disappointing.

So on that, while there are those putting in maximum effort I can’t help but feel there are those who could have done better, in fact the silence has been deafening by many who otherwise make a lot of noise about wildlife crime.

I’ve been a bit quiet on the posting front I know, there is this big picture stuff but also everyday jungle work within the scope mainly of Ecosystem Reboot, a couple of leopards getting a lot of my time, the tracking of one in particular is teaching a lot about behaviour of a big cat who operates in both core protected area and buffer zone. There’s also plenty going on with #AntiSnare and Living with Big Cats, indeed writing this tonight was interrupted tonight at 7.30pm as a call came through from one of my team giving details of a woman killed by a tiger not far away.

Reducing fatalities on both sides is dependent on many factors, not least justice, let’s hope it happens…

The trust we can do better to protect big cats…

The image is a cake I bought an anti poaching team. They were feeling really bad about a tiger which had died in a snare. I told them it was not their fault, it’s just that the system is broken. What I mean by the system is the big picture, our overall societal attitude to wildlife. Big cat conservation symbolizes that, there’s too many ironies, too many inconsistencies. This particular tigress died a horrible, long painful death. Once the picture was pieced together it was gut wrenching. On the protection side no one was to blame and yet the blame game commenced, that is the nature of things. The anti poaching team I bought the cake for patrols long distances in all conditions, with limited resources. They help protect a national park that people with over sized cameras can enjoy. There’s an incongruence in the whole line of how people are connected to protected areas, there’s borderline poverty to well heeled tourists, somehow those involved in wildlife protection are stuck in the middle of that. It’s hard because sometimes you have to trust the system even though you know it’s not working and when a beautiful prime of life tigress is killed by poachers questions need to be asked. It wasn’t just the life of that big cat snuffed out brutally, it was future generations lost. This particular death made me dig deep which tested me because every day in some way I confront deaths of big cats. It tested my own trust, even in myself, I asked myself how I could do better, I found that in a way I grieved more than usual in searching for those answers. I looked at how different people reacted, perhaps who trust could be placed in, examined just who cared and who didn’t. It’s at that point I realized once again that it can become confusing and frustrating, that’s it’s best to just get on with the many tasks at hand.

And just stick to the trust that we can do better to protect big cats…

It’s a busy time, a comprehensive update as soon as possible.

Update soon

The tweet below sums up my feelings right now as we battle in several situations in #AntiSnare. I’ll update fully in a few days. Many thanks to those who do actually help and support what we do at WildTiger in particularly trying times.

The hypocrisy of the situation as leopards continue to be killed in awful numbers

To social media posts in the last few days I’ve made myself as well as at WildTger it could easily have been added yesterday the leopard found in Baitaidi Distirct, Nepal, snare trap injuries most likely cause of death as well as a report out of Sri Lanka about the disturbing number of leopards killed there this year. We reported other cases yesterday from India and Nepal as it is. Quite honestly, I’m tired of bringing these reports, we don’t even report them all, not barely, they are an indicator of the problem and anyone landing on our online platforms easily gets the picture.

A couple of days ago the hypocrisy of it all hit home, again. It was World Rhino Day and like the tiger, the rhino is a donor darling as well as being a wildlife tourism favorite. Rightly so, both rhinos and tigers are incredible animals, both endangered and both deserving of all the protection and attention they get. As someone who walks the walk in wildlife protection every single day, and I’ve got current leech bites and other bites/wounds/scars to prove it, I don’t dispute the need for full on rhino and tiger conservation for a second, the safety of wildlife occupies my constant thinking. What irks me however and was again apparent on World Rhino Day, another photo opportunity event for many, is the hypocrisy which cries out with the same old line of protect the habitat of certain icon species means protecting all underneath, This theory is being increasingly challenged as resources in many icon species habitat areas are being plundered in front of blind eyes as well as convenient ignoring of species which don’t parade in front of tourist’s jeeps.

In short, if ‘umbrella species’ science is to be truly applied then the leopard should be getting hard line protection. The leopard has by far the greatest range of all the big cats, the amount of habitat which could be given far more conservation emphasis could be huge. Yet the leopard continues to be highly persecuted with many governments, the general public and a lot of high profile conservation organizations completely letting this animal down and thus totally pushing away the face of true conservation science.

These are scary times. The Living Planet report was clear in the rate of biodiversity destruction by human hands and the consequences. There are real solutions but something that strikes me more and more is the loss of connection and understanding when it comes to wildlife issues, people seem to have lost the grasp of what coexistence with wild animals really means, its importance for so many reasons and how because the situation is so fluid we must be far more reasonable and understanding, we must be much more tolerant of our fellow inhabitants. Coexistence with wildlife is fundamental to our very being, that is the line we continually roll out to the kids here in the ‘Living with Big Cats’ program.

The leopard is a beacon of this thinking but it is having its light diminished in brutal fashion. To see this happening to a superb animal I care about a lot is very difficult. I’m lucky in that on a daily basis I connect with good people who care, not least my own team. Overall however, the situation is precarious and while those of us on the ground, no matter how small our numbers, will do everything we can to protect every big cat and other wildlife we can, until there is far more understanding and support from the parties I’ve mentioned above, the leopard will be continued to be slaughtered and the hypocrisy will stink.

I thank those who do care, drop me a line if you can help (projects@wildtiger.org), I’m full on busy with #AntiSnare, Ecosystem Reboot and ‘Living with Big Cats’ but I reply as soon as I can.

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…