Many of you who follow our work will know a lot of effort is going into early warning systems, I’ve frequently worked through the night in development. This is just a short post describing progress, there’s a lot more to be done but there’s reason to be positive.
In an area where human fatalities because of confrontations with big cats last year occurred, we’re working hard to reduce it. The Bardia/Banke/Katarniaghat region is a highly important big cat landscape with protected areas, buffer zones, community forests, national forests and agricultural land interspersed with village areas. It extends from typical Terai lowlands into much steeper country that is vitally important as the tiger population stabilizes and disperses. This dispersal of the striped cat means territorial dynamics are constantly changing which in itself affects the leopard population. Both species were involved in the serious conflict spike.
We’re helping monitor several conflict sites in both hill and flatland areas. Working with partners to improve understanding and communication as well as providing technical support, we’re in a situation where it’s now seven weeks since the most recent human fatality. How I’d love 2020 to be a zero fatality year but there’s a long, long way to go. I’ll repeat the mantra, reducing conflict results in reduced retaliation meaning improved coexistence meaning improved ecosystems.
The images show human movement in a conflict zone, a sensitive area in the mountains with high density of cats currently as the tiger dispersal dynamic I described takes place. Tigers and leopards are not great friends and competition for prey can cause problems. I’ll come back to the prey issue shortly but by being able to collect data in real time through network transfers we’re able to not only warn people of big cat activity but also to advise them that they are taking risks if moving outside the guidelines we recommend, guidelines which so far have been successful in reducing conflict. The system, LeopardEye, involves a variety of cameras and communication systems and is a work in progress but it’s something I have great faith in. Time and resources, yes it’s not cheap but it’s helping save lives. A crucial element is understanding big cat behaviour, not just generally but of the individual leopards and tigers themselves, that in itself takes effort.
More on our progress as it develops but ultimately prey base is the absolute key to coexistence. Over grazing (domestic livestock), poaching and poorly thought out development all put pressure on wildlife, there’s plenty of information and awareness about these issues but they are still happening. Recently I went through the most alarming dataset I’ve ever seen, many images from a conflict area which showed only predators, people and livestock, absolutely zero natural prey. The refusal to acknowledge a poaching problem is a major part of this and in an upcoming education program we’re conducting in a high conflict area we’re making it quite clear that poaching of prey species for wild meat (bushmeat) puts human lives at risk.
We can do our very best with tech, education and general all out effort but it comes down to social responsibility. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a long way to go…
APPENDED a few hours later as we attended a conflict case on our way to the leopard refuge station:
A CLASSIC CASE OF WHY IT GOES WRONG … AND THE AWESOMENESS OF LEOPARDS… This is worth mentioning and in many ways connects to the previous post which is also at wildleopard.net. On the way to the leopard refuge station this morning we called in at a conflict case. Earlier someone had been waiting outside my office, almost demanding a flashlight as a leopard had been taking livestock at the person’s home. We arrived to a typical situation, a poorly constructed night enclosure for goats, easy work for a leopard. I’ve got a damn sore foot at the moment so was perhaps more direct than usual and being direct is something I’m not shy about anyway.
“Give leopards opportunity they’ll take it. And by doing that you’re putting people in danger, especially children, fix your shed and then we’ll talk about a flashlight,” I said.
At the refuge station something happened which made both my assistant and me smile, we got a fleeting glimpse once again of the sheer awesomeness of leopards. It made me realize once again I’ve got to do all I can to convince you about that and then maybe you’ll understand that leopards are not just important, they are, very simply, awesome. Watch this space.
In the meantime I thank those who do help, you make a difference, together we keep going…
17 Feb – LAST UPDATE FOR A WHILE:
GHOST OF OUR FOREST, GUARDIAN OF OUR FOREST…
As an apex predator the leopard plays a vital role in keeping ecological balance, the right number of species underneath them in the food chain, in their territory. This sustains the health of forest ecosystems thus giving direct benefit to humans through air and water quality as well as other resources. This big cat operates over a vaster range than any other big cat. Protect the leopard and we protect that range. At the moment we’re killing the leopard in a variety of ways including poaching, trophy hunting and simply taking up too much space in the name of development. The hard edge of conservation wants 30% of our planet as protected areas by 2030, I’m determined that the leopard is not just a symbol of that but a fundamental part, seen as just as important as tiger or any other species. I have high regard for this remarkable species, I’ve seen so much of just how remarkable leopards are. What the leopard needs, what we all need, is more of you to understand and support that. Back to work…