Ecosystem Reboot – Putting Leopards Back Where They Belong

“If you take responsibility to make change, you have the possibility to make the world a better place.  It’s not about being popular,  it’s about doing what is right…”

Jack Kinross here, many thanks for visiting this page and showing interest in what we do.

In the video clip above the leopard Asa leaps out at me, one of hundreds of mock attacks while he learnt to be wild again when we lived together in the Annapurna Himalaya.  In the image below the remarkable Dr Aashish Gurung trains the leopards Tika and Ram in isolation, they too learnt to live in the wild, as leopards are supposed to, as nature intended big cats to live.

Pragati Shahi addresses an audience of environmental law and policy makers and influencers, at a conference in Sydney, Australia. Pragati as an experienced and widely respected environmental journalist tells of the challenges of human and leopard coexistence before as a team, we talk about Ecosystem Reboot.  In the next image Prajwol Manandhar, a bioinformatics expert in Kathmandu, works along aside wildlife genetics team in Kathmandu, Nepal, he is helping develop and advance DNA analysis so that leopard conservationists have another valuable tool to help protect not only the big cats themselves but further our understanding of the species so that people can live safely in leopard habitat.

This image shows the leopard Dipnani. She is photographed by a hidden camera as she observes life deep in the jungle. Dipnani has recovered from injuries, moves through a rehab area of four zones and before going into a soft release phase. Unlike the other leopards shown, Dipnani has never needed a human handler, she was at an advanced age when rescued. Human interaction is at an absolute minimum, she has spent more time in encounters with wild elephants, tigers and other leopards which are free to visit the area.  Using LeopardEye, Dipnani and future leopards are monitored.

These are just a very few of the different parts to the sum of Ecosystem Reboot, our efforts to put leopards back where they belong and at the same time improving coexistence while rebuilding ecosystems.

Big cat reintroduction to the wild is a subject and endevour not without controversy.  Different strategies have been used in different areas for different species.   There has been success, there has been failure.  The leopard is a species involved in a disturbing amount of human fatalities in South Asia as habitats decrease and coexistence becomes more challenging. By the same token, leopards are killed in large numbers, either in retaliation or because of the scourge that is illegal wildlife trade, poaching for leopard skins and other body parts is still a massive issue.  The complexities of shared habitat means leopards also fall in wells (as happened with the leopard Dipnani, separating her from her mother), they are electrocuted on power poles,  they are hit by cars and trains.  Those leopards which do survive are often injured or orphaned.

Our philosophy and reaction to these events is that every leopard has the right to live free and wild, to be part of the ecosystem.  Our strategies are based around minimal human contact during the rehabilitation phase and only if a leopard is in infant stage when rescued thus rendering it a cat needing nurturing, is the strategy of the cat having a human handler used.  The leopard bonds with the handler just as it bonds with its mother in the wild.  The cat remains and is trained to be wary of humans.  Leopards are risk averse,  an injury can mean limited hunting ability and probable death.

Juvenile, sub-adult and adult leopards are rehabilitated in isolation of people but as in the test case with the leopard Dipnani, designated an area where contact with other wild animals visiting the area is part of their being.  The “moving den” strategy is applied for translocation so that leopards habituate to new territory, applying their homing instincts, during soft release phase.  This means the big cats are not simply pushed out the back of a jeep and left to fend for themselves in a new environment, they are given every chance in a pre surveyed area to be the highly evolved ecosystem engineers that nature intended.

We are learning, there is still much to understand, every case is different.  When appropriate we’ll show the progress of our work, there is experience and knowledge as Ecosystem Reboot grows.  Safety for all parties is paramount and the areas of gain in our knowledge and strategies mean progress in coexistence and anti poaching/trafficking as well as rehabilitation.

The last few years has meant we have captured some astonishing footage. That will be shown when the time is right and we’ll update on our progress through our various platforms.  The leopard is a marginalized and persecuted animal through much of its range, there is a great lack of support compared to other big cat species as well as other icon wildlife.  This needs to change for one of nature’s most remarkable creations.

But as I publish this page on World Wildlife Day 3 March 2018, our momentum continues.  Collaborations with decision makers grow stronger and as I write this two more rescue areas (this time in Central Nepal) have been approved, the isolation strategies we have developed will be implemented.  The clock is ticking for the leopard but we are confident we can improve the situation with what we are learning, what we are applying.  If supported, the leopard has a future but it is a future very much in our hands.

When the leopard Asa grew to become the big cat you see in the second image, as we separated for the last time as was his choice to live wild and free again, the way he was born, it was a pivotal moment in my thinking.  That story will be fully told, as will be many others by the people committed to Ecosystem Reboot.  For now though, the work continues…

Read more at Rescue and Rehabilitation

Contact projects@wildtiger.org