Caught in a snare, who does really care?

So in the short few hours since I posted on other platforms re a tiger killed in a snare plus a leopard poaching case, two more incident reports have come through. 2 leopard skins were seized in Chhattisgarh and in reference to the image, a leopard was caught in a snare in Odisha. In that incident the cat ripped itself free during the stress as a crowd gathered and later a forest official was injured and hospitalized during the attempt to catch the leopard which naturally was in a traumatic state.
I come from a province which was the first in the world to give a protected area the same rights as a human being. On the island, Te Ika a Maui, we now have a large forest area, a mountain in another zone as well as a river all with the same status with more to come. The people involved in this take the care of nature incredibly seriously. I work alongside people across the world involved in counter poaching/trafficking of wildlife who also have that same level of dedication and I know that there are people reading this who also really care. The problem is it’s a tiny minority group when it comes to real action and support because there’s absolutely no doubt that if the level of care was greater then we as a species would be doing much, much better when it comes to this and so many environmental issues. I thank those who do care enough to actively support, you make a difference. The world needs more of that and the leopard is a prime example. As I mentioned, more on #AntiSnare next month.

Big Cats, Wildlife, Monitoring, Learning, Coexistence, Survival…

Today I was due to tell more about a leopard called ‘The Boss’ but there’s so much going on right now I’m going to delay until early next month. The Boss has a compelling story though, he survives a difficult life with tigers and humans around him and he is ‘good friend’ to different female leopards in the area including a rewilded cat a huge amount of effort went into. Those stories to come but for now just a quick post as we deal with electricity issues in the run up to an early election here, a poll which many doubt will actually happen. We live in a world of uncertainty.

Tigers and leopards are incredibly important animals so monitoring them is a vital component in their protection. The camera models in the image are just a few I’ve tested over the years. Lenses, sensors, light systems, battery systems and durability differ and I’ve been working for some time to understand and help develop what is best for certain situations. One has to understand what the prime objective is, it could be identification, activity, pre-capture, early warning, just some examples in within the spheres of human-wildlife conflict mitigation, anti-poaching and research. It takes time to get it right and nothing is foolproof when it comes to dealing with nature. Thousands and thousands of hours have taught me that.

Add technology to tracking along with sign and sampling it then becomes possible to build understanding of certain situations. It takes dedication and learning.

Transferring that learning to the next generations is more vital than ever. It’s not just about living safely with the animals living around us, it is about helping those generations understand that ecosystems, particularly protected areas, are what enables them to breathe, eat and drink clean water. Kids seem to understand this very quickly.

It concerns me that more people in more recent generations don’t truly understand this. We are never to old to be educated. In the meantime, protected areas must be valued and ‘protected’ more intensely than ever. They are not here for our entertainment, we need them, as do tigers, leopards and other wildlife, to survive…

Thoughts on a day when hopefully environmentalism takes a turn for the better

The reason I chose this photograph is at the bottom of the post. My day usually begins around 5am, those urgent email replies as well as trying to clear the backlog. It was no surprise to hear music blaring in the distance, around 4am, probably a wedding celebration, they go on for days here. The volume of the music here in a protected area, well, I’ve written about this before. Noise pollution, it’s not just that it happens, it’s the disappointment that so few people care about it. In a jungle area yesterday, big cat habitat, as I was checking for leopard sign in a place where I should only hear birds or perhaps the alarm calls of deer and monkeys, I could hear music blaring from two sides, the volume must have been so high for me to hear it where it was. It was a bit depressing. I immersed myself in my work, later finding some leopard scat cheered me up.
I’ll be back in that area in a couple of hours. I’m hoping it will be peaceful, it’s not only easier to work, it’s the way the jungle should be. Protected areas aren’t here for our entertainment they are here because they are crucial to the very air we breathe and the water we drink, our health, the health of all living things. I know for a very fact that tigers and leopards hate unnecessary noise, I spend a lot of time on this, trying to understand what can work for these incredible wild animals as we strive for coexistence.
Something else I’m hoping for today is that the Biden inauguration signals the start of deeply necessary repairing of environmental policy in a country which whether the rest of us like or not, has a massive global impact. The Trump administration has been a f…… disaster for the environment, for wildlife. Making the clubbing to death of wolf clubs legal? What the hell? Disturbance takes many forms and wildlife conservation today is as much about understanding who is doing what, humans that is, as it is understanding wildlife behaviour. I could go on but my choice today is one of hope in hopefully a peaceful jungle. The reason I chose this photograph is I guess it’s because it shows a half smile, we’ve got to keep trying to keep our sense of humour but we have to take things seriously to … and form strong allies with those who also do. It’s about balance, blocking out the noise and getting on with it…

Appended later in the day:

Coming back from the jungle late this morning (and yes, despite it being a bitterly cold, thick fog morning I could still hear music blaring) I bumped into a local. I asked him how it was going, he replied that it was a bit like the leopard, not that great. I get back to my laptop, the alert system buzzes, this seizure of skins in Chattisgarh, the phone goes, an important disturbance issue comes up, I’m off to find out more now … I think it’s fair to say it never ends but I thank those who do genuinely care and help, I wish there were more of you, I guess that’s part of the goal.

Big Cats, we’ve got to at least give them the night…

The incident here a few days ago, a woman knocked off a motorbike and killed by a tiger has once again raised many issues. Authorities have acted quickly, there is now no motorcycle travel allowed between 8pm and 6am along that stretch of highway here in Bardiya. It was the latest fatality in what has been a tough two years with the human toll in the Bardiya/Banke/Katarniaghat area rising. The big cats involved in most attacks have mainly been tiger but some there’s been some leopard cases as well.

On Saturday I’m pitching to a geneticist friend the idea of using the
faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) measurement system to test the physiological stress response of tigers due to anthropogenic activities. There’s little doubt tiger behaviour is changing and stress levels in the big cats need to be understood. There’s never been this concentration of numbers as a combination, humans and tigers sharing habitat. There’s been success in stabilizing tiger numbers here but unfortunately humans have not stopped breeding, and developing infrastructure, the issues that wildlife faces globally. Those issues where you’ve got apex predators such as tiger often means deadly conflict.

A fair portion of my hours at the moment is monitoring a certain area to understand both big cat and human activity, the latter be it legal or illegal. To be honest it’s worrying, I feel there’s an incident waiting to happen, the area isn’t far from where this most recent fatality took place. It’s a high density tiger and leopard territory and in my humble opinion, too much human activity and that is without tourism as well, something that is not really happening here because of covid.

I got some excellent information from two of my team today regarding attitudes and activities of the community in the buffer zone adjoining this big cat area. The info tied in with existing data as well as answered some questions I’ve had. So much of the human activity is just not necessary but economic factors are there, once again bringing up the need for alternative livelihoods, something we went into further planning with today before a report to the national park authorities.

Shared space, coexistence, living with big cats, call it what you like, will always have uneasy times but there are ways to improve matters, one of the most basic is simply allowing big cats to have their time to do their thing. Completely restricting human activity at night and coming down hard on those who don’t comply is an obvious strategy. The non disturbance must go deeper though and issues such as noise levels (I’ve mentioned before doof doof music parties in the area) have to be taken more seriously. Let the big cats have their time and in the main they play the coexistence game, they will hunt at night, we must not give them the opportunity to interact with us and the best way for that to happen is we stay away.

It sounds simplistic, that’s because it is but sadly it’s the lack of adherence to basic guidelines both during night and day which so often lead to human fatalities, I’ve touched on this before, the attacks that do happen during the day, so many of them could be avoided.

The stress levels in big cats? More on that soon, as I say the connection between big cats under pressure due to continual disturbance and serious conflict needs to be taken seriously. For all that the basic maxim of simply showing these animals the respect they deserve, letting tigers and leopards at least have the night, is a step forward. That word ‘respect’ again, it’s the key to so much…

“Namaste, namaste, sorry, sorry” … but the damage was done and later the tree was gone

“Namaste, namaste, sorry, sorry” and then a short discussion about why the rules are there to not cut down trees in the protected area. I returned 6 hours later, the tree was gone…

Instead of events like this the memory I’m going to choose for 2020 was the wonderful lack of disturbance in the jungle during lockdown. It was in sharp contrast to the wood collection of a few days ago, both legal and illegal as in the image. Lockdown allowed the protected area to breathe, not completely, poachers did strike but in the main it was a time which showed what could be, it was a time of reflection that hey, we have a pandemic, nature is warning us. Will we heed these warnings or is 2020 going to be the start of many such years? Time will tell, it will tell if we truly value protected areas, if we truly understand why we need them more than ever. It’s going to be interesting to see who does understand, who will reflect that in their actions.

I thank those who stood in support of our efforts in 2020. The leopard, the tiger, those guardians of the forest, they need our help more than ever to do that. In some ways it seems like we lost a year in our efforts to increase and better manage protected areas by 2030 but in other ways we learned a lot about who is really with us. More on that soon as we get closer to the next Year of the Tiger, at a time when we need to give the jungle breathing space more than ever…

Leopards and tigers in my mind and in my actions…

“When the safety of big cats is always on your mind, you feel at your best being where they are and checking they are ok…”It’s been a hard year for so many people, it’s been hard for a lot of wildlife too, as I write this the poaching/seizure toll for South Asian big cats, mainly leopard and tiger, continues to be added to. I thank those who care about this and look to actively support. Big cats are barometers of ecosystem health and that affects us all. Coexisting with them can be very challenging for all parties involved which is why we must continue to evolve in strategies and we must adapt just as they have to. Their safety is our safety and our continuance…

As I mentioned in a tweet recently, a leopard we call The Boss has been part of my focus. In technical speak he is known as B20, I’ll have more on him soon plus another leopard known as D19 and a tiger called T21. Working with and protecting individual big cats on the ground keeps me at the level of emotional investment needed so that I never just see them as statistics as the constant big picture stories keep coming with both poaching and conflict issues.

It’s busy, both with that ground in front of us and that big picture. A full update early in January 2021 will sum up an extremely challenging 2020 as well as provide a lead in to Vision and Action 2021, the next phase of our work at WildTiger.

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…

UPDATE:

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.