#BigLeopardLittleLeopard contributing artists wanted

I’m putting out a call for contributing artists. Essentially it doesn’t matter what your style is, it may be paint, pencil, cartoon or detail, it doesn’t matter, there’s room for flexibility as different pages can accommodate different styles. I’m already in contact with a few people, anyone else interested can ping me at jk@wildtiger.org. Many thanks to those who are reading #BigLeopardLittleLeopard at my Facebook page, yes, humour is a key but it’s about the message and that can mean some of the “episodes” have a deadly serious delivery. The platform of a book is underway, it’s going to be something that can give a laugh, provoke some thought and will mean much needed funds. Leopards are highly charismatic creatures, it’s about time more people understood that and recognized the enormous privilege we have sharing space with them. Jai Chituwa.

Dynamic processes needed for a misunderstood species

A version of this post is at Facebook if you wish to comment.

Watch to the end of the clip, you can see and hear close up the frustration of the situation, the taunting of the leopard by the monkeys (sorry about the quality, it was a low light day and difficult to focus).  This is one of many such situations I’ve witnessed, filmed and photographed.  It’s not easy being a leopard.

This next clip was shown by media, an incident on Friday, more trouble for a leopard, this time involving a different primate species, us.

Two meetings with individuals today were insightful and progressive.  They were solution based.  We talked of the dynamic approaches required.  I’ll have more in a full update in a week or so but Professor Tej Thapa, spoke of the serious misunderstanding of the species being a barrier to effective leopard conservation.  I found myself nodding vigorously at his words but Tej quickly pinpointed where we can improve our knowledge.

Earlier Dibesh Karmacharya spoke of a holistic approach particularly with regard to alternative income streams where poaching is a factor but also where human and leopard (plus other wildlife species) conflict affects livelihood.  A dynamic business approach has its place in this type of solution model.

As I say I will enlarge in the full update but it was a pleasure to spend time with both men because like them I really believe in positive outcomes provided there is the right resource allocation.  Passion for the subject matter was abundant in both meetings.

But that’s the “if” … as I’ve mentioned before there is the talent and smarts to really improve the situation, there is already incremental progress… it now needs key stakeholders to get on board, invest in the process and make a difference.

I’ll say it again, the clock is ticking, there’s no time to waste, the time is now.


Progress, Hope and Plans -Thinking outside the square, making the leopard sexy

In some dialogue on my Facebook page (and other forums) over the last couple of days, while I worked on a document regarding leopard rehab/translocation strategy, quite a few issues came up.

Discussed was the announcement by the US regarding the importation of “trophies” from hunters of elephants and lions.  The inevitable backflip by Trump was entirely predictable, his dishonesty is no secret and with that comes more death for wildlife.

I mentioned we will be explaining the connection between the trophy hunting of leopards and illegal wildlife trade of body parts of that species.  We’re still collating data which is coming through, as well as other information from Africa but essentially trophy hunting creates assets with values.  Hundreds of thousands of wildlife trophies hang on walls and are displayed in cabinets.  To their owners they have value.  To buyers and dealers they have value.  It’s not rocket science to join the dots to see where I am going with this but as I say, we’ll detail it fully soon.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few weeks in the urban jungles.  It’s not my preferred habitat but important to connect with the right people.  There’s been some highly progressive and motivating meetings and others where I could feel my feet start to shuffle and my eyes start to roll.  There’s been progress though, I can feel momentum gathering and while we have some obvious ruts to battle out of there’s also been some out of the square thinking.

Once such organization I enjoy very much dealing with is CMDN (Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal).  I’ve mentioned them before but I just want to talk about another question asked at a recent forum by their Chairman/Executive Director Dibesh Karmacharya, he asked why the leopard wasn’t “sexy” like the tiger or snow leopard?  I’m certain everyone reading this knows what he meant by the question in that the leopard, despite the serious conservation concerns, does not get the attention and emphasis of those two other cats.  Dibesh knew the answers, he was strategically getting them aired to the group.

I’m not going to go into my answer right now.  I’ve given reasons before but perhaps the phrases “dark agendas” and “worth more dead than alive” sum up some of the issues.  Of most importance is how we change that, how we make the leopard sexy and this is where gathering with the right dynamic minds over this next period of time is critical.

The other aspect to spending time in the urban jungle is that leopard skins (and other body parts) make their way down dusty back streets.  Nepal is well known as a transit hotspot, a hub.  Yes, there are serious poaching issues within the country itself but illegal wildlife trade or wildlife crime  has an international trafficking element with threads of movement and communication that place south Asia as a key point.  The bottom line is we don’t know how many leopard skins make their way through this country but resource allocation to find this out and bust key players, not just ground level poachers, is vital for the big cat.  Within the realms of leopard conservation this is my least favourite, it’s a dark and dirty business but the effort has to be stepped up.  Market values of skins have hiked, this is a huge concern.

Having the right people involved is critical and I just want to make another quick shout out to Ian and the crew at ProsChoice in Australia as LeopardCam within the LeopardEye system comes on stream.  We’ve already had some success with anti-poaching intelligence gained during the testing phase and I’m excited about where this will go during this year and beyond.

Another effort progressing well is the honey program, still a lot to be done but a Chinese representative arrives soon, the labels are being finalized (fantastic work by Cheryl Chin) and I’m immensely looking forward to meeting with the “Professor of Honey” in the next few days, more on this genius honey maker soon.

Yes, it’s very much about thinking outside the square, keeping an open mind.

As Big Leopard would say to Little Leopard “Don’t grow up to be a dumbass, lives depend on it.”


Getting to the core of human and leopard coexistence…

The last few weeks have been about many meetings, presentations and interactions with people here in Nepal, where we live with leopards.  As I mentioned many times I am not Nepali (glaringly obvious by appearance!) and in talks from everyone from professors to tiny children in villages, I openly state I will never have the insights of someone born in this complicated land.  Perhaps, as my life is dedicated to leopard conservation, I can sometimes angle in from the leopard’s point of view but that is different, those are  offerings regarding leopard behaviour and in this challenging coexistence situation, that is only half the story.  The human element is one of two keys on the ring, Nepal has unique dynamics,  even different from our neighbours India where people like Dr Vidya Athreya has done incredible work on human and leopard coexistence strategy.

While my recent focus has been presenting translocation strategy (as that process grows nearer for the leopard Dipnani) I’ve been deeply touched by thoughts and experiences of a vast array of people of all ages.

At yesterday’s forum hosted by CMDN (Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal) their Executive Director, Dibesh Karmacharya, made the comment that a faith based society, with essentially a belief system influenced by animism, was losing its way, was disconnecting from nature.  His concern was palpable, I thought of my own birth country, New Zealand, a place with such a clean green reputation and my own feelings of loss there, as I journeyed through mountains and forests where the mighty Moa, the world’s biggest bird should still roam.  It doesn’t, the several sub species were part of one the planet’s fastest extinctions, all due to human kind.

The gathering at CMDN was the first in what I see as a vital concept, a meeting of minds.  My thanks to everyone involved, particularly Adarsh who created the initial momentum.  Also a special mention regarding my co-presenter Shristi, you are an inspiration, your passion for our fellow beings is without peer, the term voice for the voiceless doesn’t do you justice.

Last night as I added to and went through notes, I thought of some of the talented people getting involved, particularly within our Task Force.  This gives me huge hope but the clock is ticking for the leopard.  There is a serious misunderstanding that increased conflict translates into leopard numbers that give stakeholders least concern.  The issue of local extinction seems to be lost on many even in the scientific community.  Just because there are sustainable populations in leopard sub species in some areas does not mean all is well.  When an apex predator vanishes from any ecosystem all life is affected.  I get frequent messages from all over Asia, along the lines of “Jack, we have not seen any sign of leopard here for a long time” and yet the species does not get the conservation emphasis it needs.  This lack of understanding runs alongside some dark agendas as well as the disconnection Dibesh mentioned.

Coexistence strategy is fundamental to leopard conservation.  A serious think tank is required, there is the talent in this country to drive the solutions and it was interesting yesterday how many times religious value was mentioned but sadly often within the context that the rupee was taking over as a god.  I spoke of the increased value of leopard skins (and other body parts) on the black market and because the leopard does not parade itself in front of tourist and tourism operator dwelling jeeps like its close relation the tiger, we have hit a serious rock where in the minds of many the leopard is worth more dead than alive.  Once again science vanishes out the window as does another aspect which Dr Athreya refers to as Social Caring Capacity.

But this is where it gets really tricky.  I’ve mentioned before now there is a trigger where tolerance of leopards evaporates.  That trigger is when there are human fatalities, people killed by leopards, particularly children.  Sadly, through western Nepal through to adjoining Indian States (especially Uttarakhand) there have been hundreds and hundreds of such cases in the last few decades.  It’s still happening and it is deeply frustrating that so many could have been avoided with better intervention.  There is no doubt that poverty is a huge factor but how long does the world hang its hat on that in the global hotspot of human-big cat conflict?

Retaliation and wildlife crime mean leopards die. Everyone reading this already knows that but the final question I asked at yesterday’s gathering was how great is the will to protect the leopard?  Keeping people and their livestock safe is part of the obvious solutions, if we are serious about leopard protection but as my own focus moves back to the wildlife crime aspect, it is really time to question those who could support our efforts more.  Just how much the world values living with leopards is going to be answered over these next few years as we know of the declining populations of almost all sub species.

The core of human and leopard coexistence points, as with many wildlife and other environmental issues, to our own existence, not just in a country like Nepal where political and social stability is at a crucial juncture but throughout the vast range that nature herself created for the most adaptable and versatile of the big cats.

The clock is ticking…

Project Update “Ecosystem Reboot” for World Wildlife day

We’ve scheduled our project update for 3 March 2018 which is World Wildlife Day, this year the focus is big cats.  We’ve also delayed out of respect for recent human fatalities, situations we are following up.  Not making the leopard a priority species has in many places resulted in far too many deaths, both of people and the big cats.  ECOSYSTEM REBOOT is the theme for the update but it’s not just about putting leopards back where they belong, it’s about giving them the chance to stay where they belong, ensuring their safety and that of the people living with them.

Ecosystem Reboot – Putting Leopards Back Where They Belong

Message only as strong as the action it provokes. Graphic images as the conflict continues

I was still working early this morning when I got sent a link at ETV Bangla, it showed graphic video of yet another leopard being beaten to death by an angry mob.  Since my last post a few days ago, another little boy has been taken by leopard, this time in a neighbouring district.  Images of the child’s half eaten body (just like the case before) did the rounds on mainstream and social media.

It’s not necessary, it’s disrespectful to all parties involved.  Personal and Organization agendas are involved, I don’t like it, I don’t condone it.  In many ways constant “awareness” is a cop out for real action, for genuine support, not just empty promises and noise.  Those of us on the ground often wonder just how much awareness people need.

Our own mandate now is getting the message to the right people, those who will truly support and not just talk about it.  I want to thank the Environment Protection Authority of NSW for hosting WildTiger in a keynote address.  Pragati did a fantastic job on site and the wonders of modern technology meant I was able to commentate live on video footage and answer questions from a link up here in Nepal.  There’s several people to thank, more about that in an upcoming project report but a big rap to Prajwol and Ashok who both went beyond the call.  ECOSYSTEM REBOOT was part of the title, more on that soon, we are going to continue using this type of  platform.

I’m busy finalizing a thick document which will be accompanied by a presentation to the right people, an action plan regarding leopard rehabilitation, coexistence and the wildlife crime aspect.  I’m combining field work at the same time, I’m not much good at being at a desk for long periods, in our world of noise, I like to be getting things done in the jungle, mountain or lowland.  Getting the message to the right people is fundamental though, followed by driving the action.

But there’s too much noise not creating action.  Living with a leopard in the Himalaya, we’d listen to the birds, the jungle, the mountain, real messages which told real stories, so that survival could continue.

Another tragedy – Keep children safe in low light hours

I’ve been in the Kathmandu Valley a few days, I’m behind in replies to people but for now it’ll just be comms re relevant stuff, not chit chat, there’s a lot going on.  Very sadly, a little boy was taken by a leopard last night here in the Valley, he was walking back from a shop in evening light.  There’s been several children taken across South Asia in the last month, it’s not a rare occurrence anyway but there’s a strong pattern of repeat killings meaning individual cats will look for opportunity once they take on this behaviour.

So once again it’s incredibly important we don’t give them the opportunity.  Children, in low light conditions and on their own are particularly prone, we have to adapt to that, be vigilant, take extra care.  I sent messages back to Bardia this morning, asking for extra care after changed behaviour of a leopard.  The death of a child in these circumstances is incredibly tragic and can set off a whole chain of events.  As someone who understands the grief of loss when someone that age dies suddenly but also sees the carnage of how many leopards are dying as well, all I can say is that balance of thought is required.  This is not easy in traumatic circumstances.

Pragati is currently in the sky, winging her way to keynote speak at a conference in Sydney.  My thanks to the Environment Protection Authority for inviting, facilitating and financing, I would love to have attended but feel it better that Pragati does.  I’m busy in the field but besides that Pragati will do a great job, she has great understanding of the situation and I feel happy the words will come from a Nepali national who cares about this situation.  I’m sending video and the aspects of coexistence, rehabilitation and wildlife crime are on the table, the leopard being the theme.

Living with leopards can be manageable with the right strategies.  I guess that’s what saddens me about the deaths on both sides, so many could have been prevented if our strategies were properly resourced.  We will keep fighting to make this happen.  Coexistence will never be easy but more lives can be protected, saved of both people and leopards, than is currently happening.

There’s a project update coming up but for now it’s full focus on the issues right in front of us.

Tough gig but passionate people getting involved

Another finish well after 2am and I have to be up again in a few hours. The difficulty of getting support for the #leopard born through again, oh for a dollar for every promise. I’m talking about the species as a whole, not just our circumstances here but as a colleague said today, the lack of support compared to the icon species of tiger, rhino, elephant etc is pathetic. But that’s where I draw strength as strong, passionate, talented and dedicated people get involved, more on that soon.  I’ll have a project update in a few days, the leopard Dipnani is doing well and it’ll explain how people can become a Leopard Warrior. Right now though, focus switches back to the disgusting scourge that is the leopard skin trade, both “legal” and illegal.  Amendments to protection status will help but this battle is being fought in other ways too…the ground can be a messy place. A seizure and arrest in Thailand of a noted businessman because of poaching was tweeted at @WildTigerNews  yesterday, the skin of a black (melanistic) leopard was among the wildlife body parts. This just shows, once again, the extent of the problem, it’s just one of many cases throughout the leopard’s range.

Ghatghuri appears, so it’s a matter of staying calm

Last night, based on two day’s tracking and her most recent kill, I calculated that Ghatghuri, the conflict leopard, would enter our area.  Sure enough, she did.  Those who have been following know this leopard has been involved in a series of incidents including a recent attack on a local.

The remote camera image shows the time and Santa (in the image above, who along with Raju is being a great help) saw the cat a few minutes later.  We looked for sign and you can see in the next two images when I cleared cameras and the very faint outlines of pug marks.

Based on further tracking the location of the leopard is now known, a high grass and moderately treed area which is good cover for Ghatghuri.  It’s very close to the village area and the schools I mentioned in the previous post.  So it’s a matter now of everyone being calm, sensible and aware… especially calm, I’ll come to that shortly.  I spoke to a good friend, she had had to get up a couple of times in the night to use their outside toilet and as I’ve mentioned before this is exactly the sort of situation which can mean attacks.  She has the flashlight I gave her. So from now it is about vigilance and I’ll use that word again, calm.  We live with leopards, can continue to do so as long as we modify our behaviour so that the cats understand and modify their’s.  We adapt, they adapt.  Key is simply not giving the leopard the opportunity to attack. I will continue to monitor and understand Ghatghuri.  Good people are helping and communication through village areas is improving.

In South Asia there are virtually daily incidents involving leopards.  Tragically there are fatalities on both sides and the lack of calm, measured implementations is a factor.  There are dedicated people on both sides of the India/Nepal border trying really hard to improve the situation.

I also see too much hype and comment online from people who have no real understanding what it is like.  They have no idea of the all night vigils of response teams, the dangers that can involve.  People need to settle down and support rather than make judgement.  It is resources we lack, not effort and expertise.  It’s all too easy for people to criticize from behind the safety of a laptop from far away.  Leopard behaviour is what I devote my life to so as to try and improve the situation for both the cats and the people living with them.  Perhaps those making a lot of noise about the situation would be better to put hands in pockets and support.

I thank those who do give meaningful support.  The serious poaching spike of late has affected every one who protects these cats so coexistence situations like the one today, and for evermore, must be treated with the philosophy that every leopard is precious.  Ghatghuri is one of those.

24 hours later – The Leopard situation, it’s complicated

Back at my laptop at midday after my phone seemed to be vibrating all morning.  More skin seizures and more conflict situations plus a lot of messages mean it’s just easier to make another quick update (this particular update is also at Facebook).  On the ground it’s busy, Pragati is dealing with the seizure situation, Dr Bindu is attending the injured Kavre leopard and I just want to thank Nirajan Chhetri for some strong work in situations here in Bardia.

As I mentioned I’m delaying getting to meetings in Kathmandu for at least a week, there’s too much going on.  Can I just ask that unless it is an urgent message re a situation or a genuine offer of help to please understand I won’t be able to reply immediately.

Perhaps these two images sum up the complexity of the conflict situation.  Those of you who follow posts know I’ve been concerned about a young leopard showing behaviour traits similar to other cats that have made serious attacks (sometimes fatal) on people. In the first image Tengni Tharu stands beside the structure that had 3 goats killed in it after a leopard broke in.  At this stage because of the proximity and the nature of the attack I’m approaching the situation with the thinking that the serious conflict leopard in the area was the one involved in the incident.  We need further evidence so cameras and sign recognition will help with that.

The next image is the entrance to the school just metres away from where the attack took place.  The leopard in question has attacked at least one person at this stage.  Remember, we are simply primates and children like the ones you see in the image are simply small primates.  Leopard attacks often involve children of this size.  This is why the behaviour of this leopard has to be taken very seriously and everyone in the area needs to be aware of the situation, something we are doing our best to make happen.

Feelings about leopards are affected by these scenarios.  As I’ve mentioned many times before leopards are not rock stars like tigers, elephants and rhinos, in they don’t make money, they don’t parade in front of jeeps.  Leopards are secretive animals carving out an existence way beyond protected areas.  They are not an easy animal to read, I currently devote my life to doing that, it’s challenging.

The best way to defend against attacks in village areas is to simply not give leopards the opportunity.  The big cats are then forced to modify their behaviour and adapt, something they are very good at.  However this is easier said than done, it does require resources and once attacks reach a certain level then retaliation is inevitable.  Fear and insecurity, particularly when children are involved in areas where very low incomes mean less safety, are justifiable responses.

This is just part of the complicated puzzle when living with leopards.  Things can improve with effort and resources.  We’re trying to make that happen.