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.
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.
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.
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.
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.