Focused on #AntiSnare

I’m fully focused on #AntiSnare at the moment, things are up and running, there’s several elements to it, there will be an update in about ten days. This teaser video was published on YouTube a few days ago, do watch with the sound on. I’m behind in replies to messages, I’ll get there. #AntiSnare is far from just about leopards but leopard poaching is a hell of an issue. In my communications with people I study reaction when the word poaching comes up, some deeply care while at the other extreme there’s barely a hint of care. Then there’s all those in the middle who care in a way but not enough to help. In a world which is becoming more and more divided, it’s returned to a type of tribalism, the sad fact is that all this division and a large degree of selfishness has meant that environmental issues (wildlife crime is an environmental crime) aren’t at the forefront of enough people’s thinking. But for those who do understand and are focused on doing something about it, not just talking about it, keep going, you have to, you make a difference and things can be turned round if we keep trying…

Appended later in the day:

And finally for now, it’s a really busy time and as I say there will be an update in about ten days but I was asked on Twitter after making this post “what is the solution?” …
yes, of course it’s a relevant question and the good news is there are answers, there are things that can be done, there will be more soon on #AntiSnare at the WildTiger site as well as at other platforms (including here) but the real question is if there is the will, both political and social, for these solutions to be implemented. The bottom line is we are not, as the human species, putting enough effort into wildlife protection. So in some ways the easy answer to the original question is “we have to change our attitude” because if we don’t, the loss and consequences will be insurmountable. Even though a lot of disturbing information comes my way every day, I still have hope because the solutions are real and whether I’m in the jungle or at my desk I still firmly believe we can turn this thing round but that attitude change and effort has to be sweeping, it can’t be left to a few…

Appended early 12 July 2020:

Re the posts I made yesterday I got several messages, I thank those for their concern, there’s a lot going on at the moment, I’ll reply when I can. I just hope people understand the extent of the problem and how serious it is. When I say there are daily reports I mean it, these images here are just examples, a ‘man-eater’ leopard shot in Uttarakhand and yet another seizure case in Odisha. There was also an arrest in Karnataka after a man poisoned a #leopard. South Asia is the absolute hotbed in the human and leopard struggle. On that, there is crossover in the way our two projects ‘Living with Big Cats’ and #AntiSnare operate, ,there are a lot of grey areas in wildlife protection, every situation has its own set of dynamics.

Appended 13 July 2020:

The Kunjok arrest, the significance of this case

Just a quick follow up for now (please read the previous post for initial details):
Coverage of the Kunjok arrest is starting to increase, you’ll see international exposure soon. The significance of this can not be understated, the arrest of a high level trader has much more impact than continual arrests of ground level poachers and the continuing spate of seizures where people pose with the product for a photo opportunity but thorough ongoing investigation is lacking. Scrutiny of investigation and judicial process is vital. As I mentioned earlier there is a major backstory to this case and it is far from over regarding the need to apprehend others involved. The other main issue is just how many leopards and tigers have died since this 2005 seizure? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, that’s how many. That means we’re not doing well enough, we haven’t learnt the lessons of how important it is … by that I mean the political and public will as well as the resource allocation simply isn’t good enough. That has to change. This case can help that happen…

Another image from the 2005 seizure. “The other main issue is just how many leopards and tigers have died since this 2005 seizure? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, that’s how many.”

Today’s court hearing is incredibly important to help reduce the number of leopards and tigers being killed

A seizure of leopard skins and bones in Dadeldhura District, Nepal.

Warning, later in this brief post I’m giving a description of a brutal way poachers kill big cats.

The arrest (I’ve mentioned this at Twitter and Facebook) of high profile wildlife trader Kunchok Lama was technically for his role in the trafficking of 26 leopard skins, 5 tiger skins and 113kg of bones, a mixture from both species. The seizure took place in 2005 but there is of course a whole backstory from the intervening 15 years. The court proceedings which begin in Rasuwa today are incredibly important for the big picture, not just for Nepal but globally as it is rare wildlife trade criminals at the top of the trade thread get arrested.

Today will most likely be the beginning of another long chapter in what has already been a long process. Nothing is certain but there is hope of justice. Amid uncertainties there are however some events we know are happening. Right now somewhere across South Asia a big cat, most likely a leopard, will be struggling in a snare trap. The most likely scenario is that the poachers will be first at the scene. There is every chance they will thrust the end of a long spear into the leopard’s mouth, the cat will of course bite on the sharp edges causing excruciating pain and damage. The leopard will die a horrible death, one of several ways that big cats die when hunted.

The image is from a seizure in west Nepal a few years ago. It’s just one of hundreds we have on file, any one could have been plucked out and a story told. I’ve told many stories, too many sometimes it feels because it is not easy but I won’t stop because the incidents don’t, every day shit happens.

Today can help though, in a big way, if there is to be justice for some of the leopards and tigers killed. Today can help reduce that number of leopards, tigers and other wildlife dying.

So this is just a short sharp post but on a finishing note, and obviously this is a really sensitive situation, there is a genuine hero involved in this arrest, the tenacity shown to make this happen is truly admirable. For now there will be no public recognition, maybe never but the pure effort and courage shown was that of a person committed in the battle against wildlife crime. There are many unrecognized people trying hard. Yesterday while eating lunch with an anti poaching team at a jungle post there was nothing spoken by them of the hardship, of very rarely being with families, of patrols in extreme conditions, all for less than seven dollars a day. It’s simply about doing the right thing at a time when biodiversity loss is at crucial levels.

It’s so important the right thing is done starting today in a court room in Rasuwa, it has to send a strong, clear message that wildlife crime is being combated…

Appended late in the day, more updates soon:

And lastly for now appended 29 June 2020:

Appended 30 June 2020:

Appended early 1 July 2020

The spate of #leopard deaths is unlike anything I have seen before. Seizures indicate the far wider problem, retaliation kills have been brutal and leopards found in snare traps are continuing at an alarming rate.

I’ll update again in a few days. I thank those who care, please help if you can, details on the home page.

Later on 1 July 2020

Coming soon – A preview to ‘The Importance of Leopards’ concept

Those who follow my social media platforms will have seen this disturbing image, one of many I’ve posted lately to get the point across that for the leopard in South Asia things are extremely bad in many places. This particular cat was the victim of a mob beating in a conflict situation in Kavre, Nepal, in February, a case I’m following up.

I quickly write this before I head out the door for more leopard work but in a few days I’ll give more details of ‘The Importance of Leopards’ concept, where it’s heading and how we have to reduce the killing of this species very quickly or we will suffer the consequences.

Perhaps we already are.

I don’t like posting these images but people need to understand what is going on. The amount of leopards dying, the way they are dying, the situation is not being taken seriously enough by many governments, many of the big conservation orgs and by the general public. This animal needs help. My own focus is very much on #AntiSnare at the moment and there will be more about that at WildTiger as we redefine in the covid-19 era.

A kid learns about leopards, what we do to live with them … but how much do I tell him?

It’s midnight, another long leopard day, so much going on. The little kid you can see on the left in the collage, he’s Raj, he delivers buffalo milk to me at 6am every day. I need the protein, things are quite difficult with supplies at the moment so the milk is a godsend. Raj and I have become buddies, and with social distancing he learns a bit about leopards for a few minutes each day now. Today I told him about camera traps and tomorrow (actually today, it’s past midnight now) I’ll show him the image you can see of Nirajan putting out a camera tonight to monitor a conflict situation, a leopard killed four goats near a village, a lot of children live there. Every day (and night) there’s things to be done to coexist with leopards but we make every effort … and it pretty much works, not perfect but if you make the effort, do your best to understand the situation and care, then yes, coexistence can be managed. This is the model we strive for. But at what stage do I tell Raj about how many leopards are dying in all different ways in places where the effort is not being made? (See my recent posts here and at Facebook and Twitter) Soon, because he has to know, just like the other kids in the classes which are on hold at the moment. It’s important the kids know the truth, some of them will have careers in wildlife protection, for sure but in the main they will have the skills to understand how to coexist. Yes, it all requires effort … but it works. More soon as we kick off ‘The Importance of Leopards’ concept … right now I need a little sleep…

A woman, a tiger and me…

This is an ongoing issue and an important one. Yesterday in the jungle I was in a dry creek, doing a routine check in the Leopard Refuge Station area, moving quickly and quietly to get the job done. I saw a flash of movement about 80 metres ahead of me and having just seen fresh tiger pug marks my senses sharpened. I’ve seen tigers twice before in the exact area as well as a lot of sign of the big striped cats, also of leopard.

I waited and watched carefully, more movement, this time I could just make out it was a person I could see in reasonably high grass just above the creek. It’s a no go zone, a place that needs to be left as undisturbed as possible. I climbed out of the creek into thicker vegetation and made my way as quietly as possible to near where I thought the person might be. Sure enough, I found her, an elderly woman, she looked up just as I took the image you can see. You can also see the worried look on her face, I don’t think my lockdown beard helped the situation.

The woman was down in the creek at this stage, she was bundling grass she had cut on the other side. She was alone and she was foraging in an area she should not have been in. There are some circumstances where people from the village community she is from can forage but it is with permit only at certain times and always in groups for safety. This type of foraging is monitored by Range Post staff.

The encounter raises three issues. First, the economic circumstances the woman finds herself in forcing her to do that. Second, the way this type of grass and biomass gathering affects critical habitat. And thirdly, the safety of the woman, as I mentioned this is prime tiger territory.

I put the woman at ease, she was alarmed at me finding her there but in these situations there has to be some understanding. The woman knew she shouldn’t be there but many of these people don’t really understand why there are these rules. I told her that tiger was in the area, she brought her hands together in namaste and I said it was ok, just best that she quickly finish bundling her grass and then move.

Many tiger attacks on people take place in these types of circumstances, a woman on her own cutting grass. Although it is a prey rich area one can never be too careful and that in itself is respect for the big cats, this is their territory, their place, one of the few they can still call their own in a natural world much too disturbed. An attack in a situation like this is often opportunism but it can lead to a dangerous follow on, maybe more attacks and the big cat cast as a villain.

I reported what I had to, the woman was not a poacher, she is just one of many who does things a certain way in a complex situation where the balance of coexistence needs constant work. There are so many of these types of incidents, the seriousness of jungle intrusion varies, each situation needs to be handled accordingly. It will always be like this, there is no black or white, only a fluid dynamic which can be made easier with education, improved economic circumstance and above all, decisions made which are fair to all human and wildlife living in these places.

Appended shortly after:

Appended 14 June 2020:

The ‘frenzy’ killing the leopard…

‘I cried. I could see the pain and suffering, the helplessness in his eyes as he lay on the ground.’

These were the words as written to me by journalist Karishma Hasnat who was at the scene two days ago where a mob killed a leopard. The incident in Assam is another in a series of brutal killings, Karishma’s initial report on this latest one is HERE, there’s been arrests since, more in an update soon.

I’m really busy with LeopardEye at the moment, the on the ground tech side integral to #AntiSnare plus in the evenings there is a lot of follow up including the case above. There’s contact with DFOs, law enforcement, journalists among others so as to get the feel for incidents in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the South Asian hotbeds where the leopard is getting smashed.

So this isn’t the intended blog post, that will have to wait a few days but in it the word ‘frenzy’ will be examined, it is a word used by Karishma yesterday. She was very right to bring it up. The frenzy that exists in the mob mentality when leopards die brutally in these incidents, the frenzy that exists in media and social media when everyone starts chipping in from celebrities to people on the other side of the planet, the frenzy that is the blame game that always follows these events and so importantly the frenzy that is development that is shrinking leopard habitat.

It seems everyone else is to blame, not many take responsibility.

I’ve seen that look Karishma is talking about, I’ve heard that final roar, I’ve witnessed that innocent animal on its last legs, before its last breath. Leopards are dying in deeply disturbing numbers in deeply disturbing ways. There’s no one single factor why this is happening, the only thing for sure is that humans are at the root of the cause…

Snare trap reports just keep rolling in

The reports keep coming. I’m having to start at 4am now just to keep up. We have to go into the jungle to do some work at the Leopard Refuge Station soon and in the hot weather energy gets sapped, especially as protein is getting hard to find. You can’t just pop down the shops and get what you want, people are now pretty much on what can be grown. So pacing oneself during the day is important.

I mentioned about ten days ago that as the humanitarian crisis worsens so does the level of poaching. Understanding the dynamics of this is vital. There’s no doubt many snare traps are being set simply to target food but equally there is a degree of opportunism by poachers in their perception they can operate more easily, which in many situations is proving to be true.

The leopard in the image was still alive as of last night, it’s another case in Rajasthan. I’ll know more soon but as I say, it’s really important to follow up to try and find out who was involved and why, given the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

It’s become a real battle. There’s so many incidents I can’t mention and there simply isn’t time to write about them all anyway. There was always going to be a huge cost to wildlife once the pandemic started and many people really are desperate, the migrant worker situation is sad and disturbing. The poachers who are simply taking advantage of the situation, I mean the ones who are not food insecure, are people who operate anyway, that’s the raw reality of this. Action now is simply about saving every wild animal possible but many are dying and more will. We have to do our best. More soon re #AntiSnare.

Appended on World Environment Day 05 June 2020:

Appended 08 June 2020, some passionate words from Valmik Thapar linking our treatment of wildlife and the current pandemic. If you don’t use Facebook the video is also on YouTube further down the page.

From Facebook 08 June 2020: I WISH EVERYONE HAD VALMIK’S PASSION… It’s going to be another busy day, some jungle work this morning and then continued follow up including the case in Assam yesterday mentioned in the previous posts. This video, with the passionate and dedicated Valmik Thapar pretty much nails issues re our treatment of wildlife linking problems such as the current pandemic. It came via Debbie Banks​, and Debbie along with the equally redoubtable Belinda Wright​ are mentioned for their tireless work. There are good battling hard for wildlife in these times of disturbing biodiversity loss but there are also those who are exploiting wild animals, this takes many forms. Let’s not pretend these people don’t know what they are doing, it is naive to believe negative human traits can be fixed just through awareness, there are people who just don’t care and the dishonesty and cruelty is what confronts those on the ground battling for wildlife, ultimately killing the animals themselves. Conservation models have to fall more in line that dynamic, it’s the unfortunate truth of humanity that there are always those who will try and prosper at the expense of others. Wildlife crime is at the expense of all. Our systems to combat this need overhauling, there are people working on that right now, more soon.

YouTube Version

Appended later pm 08 June 2020

With vision and determination we can get earth back into better shape

Many thanks to those who have made contact in the last couple of weeks, particularly regarding #AntiSnare. Last night Paras sent me a collection of fantastic images (these will be shown when the time is right) he made in the field during the rewilding of the leopard Asa. I still get asked about this project a lot and the time will come to tell the full story but for security and safety, not just of Asa but every big cat we are involved with, there has to be a very secure information flow. It’s virtually 5 years now since Asa and I separated fully in the wild and it was the vision buy in by several people like Paras which enabled this to happen. Subsequent projects with determined people have increased our learning but there is still a long way to go.

Wildlife conservation from this point is going to require greater vision and determination than ever before. The pandemic has proved that many existing models simply do not work in times of crisis. The last few weeks have taught me a lot about who understands this and who genuinely cares. It will take a concerted effort to get society and governments to buy in but the vision of 30% of our landmass falling into protected area status, if turned into reality can secure a bright future for so much of our biodiversity which ultimately means a better future for us.

#AntiSnare and leopard conservation in general are simply ingredients that buy into the overall vision. In “The Importance of Leopards” which is getting closer to release every day I go into this in a lot more detail. For now it’s still really busy with practical elements and rescue, rehabilitation and release falls very much under #AntiSnare, we need to do better to give every leopard, all wildlife a better chance. Working with the right people on the ground and through strong communication globally are keys to progress.

Be part of the vision, it means you are doing the right thing. A better balance with nature with us consuming less and getting our priorities right will mean issues like climate change, biodiversity loss and many of the ills of human society will naturally correct themselves.

Appended later in the day:

A further comment on the snare trap issue as blame game continues

Further to these recent posts and the deaths of a lot of wildlife including leopards by way of snare traps, as I work on this issue it’s easy to see a problem in the constant blaming of others with a lack of responsibility by many of those dishing out the blame. I’ll go more into this down the track but a lot of the blame is directed at authorities and rescue teams. This is misdirected. Most of the time there are people working damn hard in wildlife protection, often in dangerous conditions and always underpaid. Of course nothing is perfect and there is a lot of work to be done on protocols and resources.

Not enough emphasis is being placed on those setting the traps. Where livelihood is threatened due to crop raiding animals, snares are often placed before there is any dialogue with authorities about the problem. The captured wild boar or deer is eaten. Where snare trapping takes place to target specifically for wild meat (bushmeat, affecting prey species numbers available to natural predators) or for high value wildlife such as leopard, authorities and anti-poaching teams are often under resourced to deal with it. All these issues are where we are aiming for progress with #AntiSnare. Our own monitoring takes place in buffer zones and community forests, that is where most of the problems are, outside protected areas.

The leopard in the image died after a struggle of over 4 hours. In this case the rescue team was badly under resourced. Leopards are extremely dangerous in these conditions, they can be a difficult animal at the best of times due to their stealth and extraordinary hunting ability. That is not their fault, that is what they are, part of what makes them so remarkable and vital as a top predator.

Perhaps a few of the people who are constantly blaming all parties could actually be of help by supporting efforts. Social media has created an outrage culture which is loud on noise but often short on action. That being said, there are some terrific people who do support, they do care, just like most people working in the field. We just need more of a unified effort for what is a deadly serious problem.