Project Mountain Tiger

Jack here, namaste.  This particular post is also at my Facebook page if you wish to comment.

As a leading authority on the subject, Professor Tej Thapa understands the situation and processes required for leopard conservation in Nepal. Tej states that for the leopard to be added to the Protected Species List there has to be cutting edge research to produce what the Government requires to make the change. Proposals have been constructed and particularly in regard to genetic analysis, we’re hopeful for post monsoon activity. More on this as it develops.
 
Another aspect gaining traction is public education. This has been used with success in hotspots, the district of Baitaidi where there was an alarming number of children killed by leopards is an example. Currently under the strong guidance of District Forest Officer Prabhat Sapkota this program continues with strong emphasis and while there have been tense moments there has not been a human fatality in that area for nearly a year and a half now.
 
On a big picture scale, however, there are still massive concerns with poaching as well as leopards hit by vehicles and killed in retaliation for livestock depredation. The perception and respect for the species is still at a serious low. Understanding of the ecological role of the leopard, indeed any top predator, is something that needs to be communicated more effectively.
 
Bringing in religious and spiritual elements has to be done properly and respectfully. Currently a long term concept we’ve been exploring in the Annapurna region is making ground. It involves working with a Buddhist community and is now at a stage where there is excitement and positive thinking throughout. Economic benefits through tourism are on the table but I stress strongly that is not about going out there and searching for leopards to gawk at. In the terrain we’re working in that is virtually impossible anyway. It’s more about education and understanding. Above all it’s about connection to environment and the understanding of the role of an animal nature has selected to be of vital importance.
 
I’m really looking forward to bringing more on this in coming months. In the upland regions the word “tiger” has a generic meaning and in countless interviews over the years where I’ve spoken to people who have had encounters with big cats in hill and mountain regions I’ve shown three photographs, one of tiger, one of leopard and one of snow leopard. Most fingers get pointed at the leopard, the tiger of the middle hills also known as the spotted tiger. The Nepali word Chituwa is the one we try to encourage but interestingly when it comes to spiritual connection, Buddhist Lamas have said to me the word doesn’t matter. This is where Project Mountain Tiger is approaching the relationship between people and wild animals with the view that regional, cultural and different religious perspectives can be a dynamic lead in to improved coexistence, where science has its place but not over riding the simple fact, we live with leopards.

#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…