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.

The beauty and character of big cat land… but things are not good for the leopard

There are places in South Asia where the beauty can blow your mind.  The world’s biggest mountains to steamy Kiplingnesque jungles.  A myriad of cultures can often mask the problems of over population.  Terrain as varied as our planet can provide challenges, excitement and calm, all within moments.

And there is the wildlife, including of course the great cats, the tiger, the snow leopard and the leopard.

I thank those who read these updates and blogs.  I thank those even more who provide tangible support.  Most of my correspondence with main supporters is direct through email, I try to give a measure of happenings through social media and I’ll try to update this page weekly.

As I write this we have a vet travelling several hours to a situation where yet another leopard has been injured.  Another of our team is working long hours on the wildlife crime situation, mainly with regard to leopards, we’ll have a lot of correspondence during the day, and into the night.  Someone else is attending to work in the leopard rehab area, the sub adult Dipnani still on course for reintroduction to the wild.

I will not be in the jungle today, it is a day of coordination of activities in several places.  Three sim cards are in operation and several messaging Apps are open on my laptop.  The work does not finish.

Leopard body part seizures are happening in a serious spike, injuries to leopards in conflict situations are also ongoing.  Our work within the realms of coexistence, rehabilitation and anti trafficking/poaching is thus also in continuum.  So this is not the update I had planned but things in leopard land are fluid.  Unfortunately they are not good.

The frustration of that is they could be so much better.  The elements that hinder that are connected to humans.  I’ve written before that the marginalization of the leopard is perhaps symbolic of an overall loss of connection to nature but there are also other dynamics at play and I have to admit that the overall lack of support for the leopard from governments, big orgs and public mean I have certain days of shaking my head.  I take solace in the people who are totally dedicated and committed and one day a book will tell of some of the incredible sacrifices and risks taken.

We can do better for this great cat, we can do better for wildlife, we can do better for the planet and despite everything, I do have hope things can turn round.  It’s just that on a daily basis places of beauty are being removed of an animal of beauty.  It is worth fighting extremely hard to stop that happening.

A colleague and close friend, Marty Coss, speaks of certain animals being on a different plane, what he calls higher frequency levels.  We communicate on this subject continually and although Marty’s main study is eagles, he relates this thinking to many beings.  There’s no doubt the leopard operates on a level we can never fully understand.  However, every time we lose one I can’t help but think we have lost part of ourselves.  I wish a few more people understood that.  Until they do, and support for the leopard increases, we do our best.