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.

Interim Update – More Seizures, Poaching Crisis

A leopard skin seized by the Metropolitan Crime Division, Teku, Kathmandu, on Friday, January 19, 2018. Photo: MCD

Since the update a couple of days ago there’s been yet more seizures in south Asia including here in Nepal.

Seizures offer no joy.  It’s like arresting a terrorist after the attack, the damage has been done.

So just to quickly update, I’m arranging with military to increase security in the leopard Dipnani’s area.  This anti-poaching unit is fully armed, woe betide anyone who does the wrong thing.

Apart from that it’s all hands on deck.  As I mentioned in the previous update I’ll be in the capital briefly to further things regarding the leopard getting full protection status.  To increase emphasis on anti-poaching outside protected areas and to enforce stiffer penalties, full protection status is vital.

However that will be a hard hit and run exercise, it will take time.  Most important right now is to be in the field, on the ground where protection for the world’s most marginalized and persecuted big cat is needed.

For this immediate period coming up we’ll limit social media updates to the new Twitter feed for the Leopard Task Force @LeopardLives and there’ll be updates here when possible.

All indications are this is a deadly serious poaching spike but it’s impossible to know the amounts of leopard skins and other body parts getting past the system.  Seizures or not it all amounts to dead leopards, more carnage for a species declining in numbers.

Please help if you can.  The leopard is simply not getting enough support from those outside the people fighting for its protection.

Gains being made… but too many leopards dying…

I was asked in an interview recently if I felt let down by the situation.  I replied that it’s not about me, I’m in a position where I could fly away from it all tomorrow, the leopard can’t, it is the leopard being let down.

But of course I can’t fly away from the situation… I wouldn’t do that.

This project update relates to our work regarding coexistence and rehabilitation but this time also looks strongly at the wildlife crime aspect as poaching and trafficking hit the leopard hard.

This update only gives a tiny percentage of our work but the first thing I’d like to do is thank the team assisting where the leopard Dipnani is being rehabilitated before reintroduction to the wild.  Bardia National Park staff and Army Anti-Poaching personnel help make sure the area is secure, this is a vital factor in making sure Dipnani has no human contact.  I have a strict procedure I use to make sure the young female leopard retains her wariness of people and Dipnani has certainly done that, she is extremely protective of her den area and exhibiting true wild behaviour.

There will be a more comprehensive update re Dipnani in a couple of months, security is of the utmost importance.  It’s so far so good as far as her progress is concerned.  Dipnani is an important cat in so many ways, not least that her circumstance has meant we have been able to get a facility underway.  There is still a lot to be done, it’s day to day but the commitment to the project is absolute from our side.

Those of you who follow my posts on social media have been introduced to little Ridem, she is becoming our poster girl for coexistence.  The positive aspect regarding attacks by leopards on people here in Nepal is that there have been less fatalities.  This means that the trigger for retaliation is reduced.  Human fatalities generally fall in Ridem’s age group, she is 5 and we’ve found that toddlers up to children in early teens are most at risk.  However it is incredibly important to understand that when a leopard takes on behaviour traits that mean it is less wary of people and more likely to attack then all ages are at risk and human adults, particularly in India, are taken.

Here in Bardia National Park from where I write this we’ve had several serious incidents of late.  We’ve reacted quickly and made people aware of the situation and emphasized how we have to change our behaviour,  just completely minimize the opportunities for the leopard to attack. This then promotes behaviour change in the cat but the situation can never be taken for granted, vigilance has to be ongoing.

Another tool we’ve been testing is flashlights with strobe.  I’ve successfully deterred a leopard while using flashing light.  This is a very different approach to fixed location strobe which I am completely against because of what could lead to dangerous habituation by leopards thus making the situation worse as the big cats lose wariness.  A hand held device is a different dynamic altogether, testing will continue.

We’ll continue to update on our coexistence work and I’ll also bring positive news of the work done by District Forest Officer Prabhat Sapkota who we are collaborating with in the highly affected area of Baitadi in far west Nepal.

  

So onto the deadly serious issue of poaching and trafficking of leopards and other wild cats.  Our social media platforms have highlighted disturbing news of late.  That is not to say the situation has not been ongoing but there seems to have been a spike.  I’ve mentioned before that it is impossible to be accurate about the proportion of trafficked body parts compared to seizures but Indian Customs authorities use the rule of thumb of multiplying by ten.  This leads to a highly disturbing figure and means that the leopard will not sustain itself, we know the species is in decline anyway.

We work in conjunction with the appropriate parties both at ground level and internationally.  The main problem is lack of resources and this is directly linked to lack of will by Governments, the large conservation organizations (big orgs) and public who are in a position to support.  There is absolutely no doubt the leopard is a targeted species by organized trafficking groups linked to mafias involved in illegal trade of not just wildlife.  There is also opportunistic poaching linked to poverty situations and sometimes retaliation in human-leopard conflict situations.  While skins are in demand it is also teeth and claws of the big cats being traded.  There is also evidence that bones are being used as substitute for tiger bones as the large striped cat becomes harder to be illegally hunted.

Not all incidents are made public, there are investigations and safety issues to always be considered.  I have no idea how many dead or injured leopard cases I’ve attended now and on top of that there are constant updates, sadly these are daily.  Just yesterday three clouded leopard skins were seized here in Nepal and that followed 3 seizures over three days of common leopard parts. Once again, do the maths by using what I described above and this is a deadly serious situation.

In a few days I head to Kathmandu in the next step to get the leopard placed on the protected species list here in Nepal.  I’ve mentioned this before and there is the “Day of the Leopard” page on this site.  Getting harsher penalties and more thorough investigation along with more arrests of middle men and kingpins is vital.  Full protection can lead to those measures.  It’s no use just arresting ground level poachers, they are queuing up.  But that’s not to say poachers should be let off lightly, the use of snares  leads to horrific outcomes, something I have now witnessed many times.

I want to pay kudos at this point to my colleague Pragati Shahi, a brave soul who I’ll talk about more in coming updates.  We have some fiercely dedicated people involved in leopard conservation but support has to increase.

Before I head to the capital it’s more jungle time as  I make sure the leopard Dipnani is settled in her current stage.  This beautiful animal is precious and she too, like Ridem, is a poster for our efforts.  But her security means at this stage her life is not splashed round publicly.

 

Nepal, India and south Asia in general have landscapes of great beauty.  The leopard is a remarkable animal able to adapt to many varying habitats.  Evolution has produced a masterpiece, a true example of nature’s finest work.

What the leopard needs now is true friends, the leopard needs true loyalty, not just lip service and clicks.  The next few months will tell us just who in Governments, big orgs and the public are really genuine about that…