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.