Many thanks to those who have followed my blogs over the years. For 2019 I’m stepping things up a notch with a new title FIGHTING FOR THE LEOPARD based here at WildTiger.
While the blog will have the main focus of the most neglected and persecuted of the big cats, the leopard, it’s also about how we have to be more of a helping hand to wildlife in general. While I’m involved in various aspects of wildlife conservation I currently have a major focus on our anti-snare work which includes the development of rescue facilities and protocols. For more information you can contact me via email HERE.
17 July 2019
‘Living with Leopards’ or just killing them…
This isn’t the blog post I intended for now but as more details come through on yet another leopard killed in a snare it coincided with some database work on the very subject, leopard poaching. A quick calculate adds up to a figure of nearly 1500 in India and Nepal this decade alone, based on seizures and leopards found dead or near dead in snares. Of course the real poaching figure is much, much higher. Some analysts multiply by 4, 5 whatever while some like India Customs multiply by 10. We can’t be sure but we do know the number is frighteningly high.
While that figure is high I wouldn’t need all my fingers and toes to count the people who are truly passionate about fighting this scourge. I will be contacting a few right now as we resource for our own anti-snare work, some of those who truly support have witnessed the horror of a leopard caught in a snare, others just understand the situation. Overall however, throughout the South Asian region leopard anti-poaching is just not getting the support it needs, it’s a blind spot in people’s consciousness. Throughout the region we’re probably losing a leopard a day, at the very least, to the horror of snare traps. I feel like a stuck record and while I’m ok with some of own efforts with issues like rewilding, coexistence strategies (including the kid’s classes) etc, I’m simply not ok with the thought that right now a leopard somewhere is in agony in a snare.
It’s not just leopards of course, other animals suffer in this brutal poaching method, animals that we teach the kids about. I was supposed to be calling in to say hello at two of the classes this afternoon, I won’t be now, this issue needs every effort … and what would I say to them about this anyway, especially when they ask why don’t more people care? Their generation will have to be better than ours otherwise using the title ‘Living with Leopards’ simply won’t be appropriate…
11 July 2019
Many thanks to those who have contacted of late, I’m catching up with replies at the moment. We’re making progress with our coexistence and rehab work, I’ll have the update blog out soon, just a few more details needed. However, the poaching/trafficking situation is deadly serious. It confounds me there isn’t more support to fight this, that an animal as magnificent as in the photo is continually being caught in snares and dying brutal, painful deaths. As things evolve, anti-snare work is becoming more and more my own focus, I hate what is happening to the leopard and other wildlife caught in these traps, we need more people to be passionate about this beyond just words, to take real action by lending support.
Love, leopard style
I’ve delayed the next blog post for now (now probably sometime in the first week of June as CITES CoP18 has been postponed due to the terrorists attacks) while I concentrate on a certain leopard rehab situation as well coordinating with the team on several coexistence issues involving leopard, tiger and of course, people. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent with big cats, in the wild, in rehabilitation or captive situations, whatever, it’s in the thousands and then if you add to that the time analyzing data, well you can see why I don’t really have much of a social life, maybe these cats are my social life. If you look at the image, the visiting wild leopard, a large male, is showing submissive behaviour to a rehabilitating female leopard. Big cat romance is passive/aggressive, serious injury, even death can happen. Courtship and mating can show what we consider violence but to big cats it’s just part of the gig, it’s what they do, both females and males are warriors of the jungle, strong individual characters, one of the reasons I am so drawn to them, so determined about their protection.
In this case, all going well, these two leopards may get together. I’m not going to give details for security reasons (their security) but this relationship has built up over time, nature will ultimately decide the outcome, we can only do our best to give it that chance.
For all the sorting out and to and fro, which as I say does involve growls, swipes and bites, once large felids do get together there is incredible affection as well, a kind of raw purity which ensures the continuation of species which have taken millions of years to evolve. Each individual, each relationship has its own characteristics, that must be respected, there is still so much to understand about these animals and no single study has all the answers but what we do know is that unless species like leopard and tiger are given this respect their days are numbered. I don’t want to be part of the generations that has allowed that to happen…
18 March 2019 – A place where leopards, tigers, wildlife can heal, undisturbed.
Also news on ‘Living with Leopards’ as well as the Tharu Wildlife Kids and the WildTiger Sisters.
Those who have followed these blogs these last few years (and I thank you) will know that the issue of adequate rescue resources has come up time and time again. Nepal is in the category of least developed with the hope that in the next few years that status is upgraded to developing. That in itself explains much of why the challenges to establish facilities, of any sort, are great. Politics, agendas, topographic and climatic conditions add to the story.
I was disappointed there wasn’t more progress made in 2018 but there was momentum and now finally, I feel we’re on the cusp of the next stage. There have been meetings in which the need, the urgent need, has been reinforced and different agencies have come to the table. It is now a matter of which players will be involved and how support will be structured. In the not too distant future those players will be identified and I’m optimistic that before the rainy season this year there will be physical structures beyond what we have now.
West Nepal, the Bardia/Banke tiger landscape, has been identified as the area of most urgent need. A rescue, recovery and release process for big cats, leopard and tiger, with appropriate facilities has been earmarked. The set up will include a critical treatment clinic, a rehab/recovery area and the equipment required to set up soft release dens. WildTiger along with the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) has proved that the soft release system works but we’ve been lacking the necessary resources to put it in practice for every incident. I’ll go into more details as to how this will all work once partners have been confirmed and holes are being dug but the issue close to my heart of least disturbance will be to the forefront of the development. That in itself is a victory, those of you who have followed our efforts regarding leopard rehabilitation in particular know that getting the understanding and respect for the animals involved has been a constant challenge.
I’m always guarded, there’s been let downs, false dawns, empty promises and a whole myriad of other problems to overcome. Just under two years ago when I was building a structure in the jungle during a steamy, hot monsoon with mosquitoes and leeches my constant companions I envisaged where we could be with regards to an overall rescue and rehab system by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. I’m still optimistic, we’re making progress, it’s just that every day we don’t have the enclosures I hope for, it means that there are leopards who have suffered horrendous injuries from snares or other factors are not getting their needs met properly. I don’t think the fight for the leopard will ever stop but if we can get this big cat more true friends than it has now we can go forward and better protect more of these incredible animals, as well as their striped cousins, the tiger, and indeed wildlife in general.
More on this situation soon I hope…
Now that I’m back in Bardia for a long haul it’s good to be able to do other more manageable stuff outside the day to day tasks. Those who follow my social media know of the Tharu Wildlife Kids which started as a side project but is about to be injected into WildTiger. In many ways it was a follow on from the ‘Living with Leopards’ program, aimed at giving children a chance to learn about the wildlife and conservation in the area. LwL is about to reboot and will closely follow the TWK format where children learn mainly through drawing and discussion in a fun environment. An extra element to all this is that a new team has become part of who we are, the WildTiger Sisters. I’m not going to give away too many secrets right now except to say the some more very capable women are becoming part of the WildTiger network, they’ll not only be involved in the evolving wildlife classes but bring a whole new aspect to what we do. Watch this space…
Recent events in my home country New Zealand have had me thinking deeply about victimization and marginalization. I’ve said many times before that being a leopard advocate is incredibly challenging and often frustrating due to the lack of support this animal receives. Perhaps that influences my thinking and motivation in standing up for and wanting to give opportunity to people who have barriers because of gender and ethnicity. Fairness to wildlife cannot only be achieved if there is fairness to people, the philosophy of fairness to all is something that humanity as a whole is not grasping. We can only do our best to change that, it’s a goal that even on micro levels through vast effort is worth it.
This blog is also at the Facebook page Fighting for the Leopard if you wish to comment.
24 February – #WildlifeCrime #WildMeat (#BushMeat) – Snares kill collateral catch (including big cats) as well as targeted species, only a forensic approach can combat this
The image taken by a WildTiger investigator in Kathmandu shows brazen and open trade of wild boar meat. Several other restaurants have been monitored with the same results. It is not legal to sell wild meat in Nepal but sellers will often claim the meat is from captive bred animals even though they have no proof. Wildlife farming can launder wild caught (poached) stock into legality when there are no effective monitoring protocols.
If this is not stopped then South Asia will follow South-East Asia into the position of having its wildlife wiped out in huge sections of the region. Snares used to target species such as wild boar, deer and other herbivores for wild meat also catch rare predators such as the Great Cats of Asia including tiger, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard. These cats are also specifically targeted through poaching tactics involving poison, it’s obviously not appropriate to explain how this is done, poachers get too much information from the internet as it is.
A forensic, detailed approach is the only viable way to combat these crimes. We use LeopardEye and once again, it would be stupid to go public on the tactics we use except to say that it has to be a poacher to table approach with the complete chain identified. At the table (consumer) end there is often ignorance of how wild meat is obtained but there is also a strong ‘don’t care’ attitude from many at all social levels. Either way, all consumers are complicit as are poachers and traders.
This is far from just a Nepal problem, it’s global but here in South Asia with a growing middle class, a taste for wild meat is a killer of big cats and their prey species leading to human-wildlife conflict as well as wildlife products hitting the black market. While there is so much attention on international trade of wildlife products such as elephant tusks and rhino horn these internal national problems often fly under the radar so as a consequence species such as the Great Cats of Asia are victims. Add to this, unsubstantiated claims by conservation organizations telling of so called successful efforts further blurs the situation. Here at WildTiger we don’t do that, we say there is a hell of a problem, we’re doing our best to fight it but let’s not wear any rose coloured glasses regarding this situation. I’ve been told countless times of late by researchers, community members and other private sources of vastly reduced (or none at all) wildlife in their areas. There’s too much proof that this is related to consumption and we’ll be bringing a lot more evidence like the image you see … for now it is about combating every snare or other trap possible.
This post is also at the Facebook page Fighting For The Leopard if you wish to comment.
21 February 2019 – South Asia has the greatest variety of big cats on the planet, the question is how much help are they getting?
Tiger, Lion (Asiatic), Leopard, Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard, we call them the Great Cats of Asia and South Asia (the Indian sub continent) is the region that houses that variety, from coast to Himalaya. There’s nowhere else like it on earth.
All five are magnificent predators in their own right, millions of years of evolution has seen them become vital cogs in the food chains which drive ecosystems we humans rely on. Guardians of forests and mountains through which massive rivers flow, the Great Cats of Asia are nature’s selection, the team adapted to shape ecological dynamics. Not just that, they are creatures of power, beauty, perfection.
And they are all under serious threat.
There’s been all sorts of figures thrown about lately but it’s fair to say that the overall population of big cats has been reduced to about 25 percent of what it was fifty years ago, this matches the habitat loss which along with poaching and human-wildlife conflict issues is the main reason for the decline. We’re currently preparing figures for our May report and they won’t be pretty, in fact they will be a damning indictment on humanity. A couple of days ago I posted the image below (they are global figures)
and I’ve had those figures on my mind ever since. It’s really made me question the millions of dollars, the endless conferences, the countless PhDs, the constant noise in media and social media. It’s made me question the collective will of humanity but it’s also made me question the individual statement, when someone says they care I have started looking for evidence of that beyond words.
The findings are not good. The tiger is regularly voted the most popular animal on the planet, yet there are barely 4000 left in the wild. The leopard, an animal without parallel when it comes to athleticism and adaptability is essentially treated like shit when it comes to support from the public, something I will be pointing out in no uncertain terms during upcoming publications. Big cats, including the Great Cats of Asia, are now conservation dependent, they are at the mercy of our whim which means that our desire to continue to live alongside these animals, as nature intended, is now being tested.
When I’m with colleagues now I sense a kind of grimness as the reality of this situation is in our faces. I’ve been using the word urgency, we cannot afford to wait until tomorrow to do something which can be done today. I’m now personally bracing myself as winter ends here in Nepal and the heat begins to rise leading into that pre-monsoon period which tests man and beast alike. It’s months where every minute possible must be utilized within the realms we operate in, improving coexistence, rescue and rehabilitation along with anti poaching/trafficking.
And all through this that question keeps bouncing around, do we humans really want to share our space with animals like the Great Cats of Asia? I know I do, I know my immediate colleagues do, I know we will put the effort in and I know sacrifices will be made but how much help will these big cats get from humanity as a whole?
Time will tell, the next few months are part of that time.
This was an interim post, I’ll have more about the bushmeat situation soon, how the snares aimed mainly at species like wild boar and deer also kill the Great Cats of Asia … and how we’re doing our best to stop that from happening.
This post is also at the Facebook page Fighting For The Leopard if you wish to comment.
11 February 2019 – Some progress but a sense of urgency as too many leopards are dying
I was already feeling agitated at a meeting a few days ago where I felt there was disconnect between the discussion and what really happens at ground level when my phone vibrated, an alert that two leopard skins had been seized just a few kilometers away. When I had my say at the table I was my usual direct self in voicing the dangerously disproportionate conservation emphasis on icon species when other animals such as leopard are getting hammered. Soon I was away to verify the news of the latest seizure, a case we are now following up.
My phone vibrates constantly with such news. It can be media alerts or news direct from sources. It’s 24 hours. We tweet some stories we can verify but not all, there’s too many just in South Asia alone.
While video showed the leopard was trapped, the DFO statement has prompted many to allege that the forest department officials are trying to shield the accused.
— WildTiger (@WildTigerNews) February 11, 2019
There is often denial and controversy surrounding leopard deaths and those issues coupled with corruption, mistruth and a general ‘don’t care’ attitude make the leopard a very difficult animal to fight for.
I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks in dialogue with people who do care and we are closer now to the formation of a rescue/education center for western Nepal which while it will be for wildlife in general it will have a strong emphasis on leopard. I’ll have more about the parties involved down the track but a lot of work has gone into this. It’s not the time for any back slapping, there’s too much to be done, too many leopards are dying and as I’ve written before, based on the figures we have that as you read this there’s no doubt that somewhere in South Asia a leopard is dying a painful death in a snare trap, at least three a day.
There has to be a sense of urgency, this is not the time for procrastination or empty promises… I’d love a dollar for every empty promise, I could build several rescue centers.
There’s been enough awareness, it has to be about action and contribution. The disconnect I mentioned between policy makers as well as non field people to what is really happening on the ground is something we just have to deal with because in many ways it simply symbolizes the growing disconnect between humans and nature… or at least the way we should be coexisting with wildlife. I’ve got my last few days in urban jungle before it’s back to the real thing, mountain and lowland, another year of mosquitoes and leeches fighting for an animal close to my heart, I really thank those who understand the situation, we need more of you. There’s some incredible people involved with WildTiger, some you will never hear of because of security and safety, it has to be that way. As I’ve said before, 2019 has to be step up from last year and the progress for the rescue/education area is a strong start but we have to be urgent, once again, too many leopards are dying…
This post is at the Facebook page Fighting For The leopard if you wish to comment.
07 February 2019 – Interim Update
Many thanks to those who have contacted re holding a photo exhibition, I’ll be in contact soon. We need more people to care.
A colleague said yesterday that people just don’t seem to grasp the gravity of this situation. The last few years have, despite all the awareness, spelled a death knell for the leopard in places and in minds. I’m delaying the next blog, there’s been a spate of seizures across South Asia but please email email@example.com if you can help . The disconnect (which exists badly in the conservation sector too) between people and this animal is actually a disconnect between people and nature. It’s all very well to say you care but unless you do something about it they are just words…
Currently proceeds are directed at our anti-snare work.
I have to qualify all this in that there are people who really do care, are working damn hard, understand the importance of this animal. We’re doing our best to make sure there is a coordinated effort because in this part of the world political, org and personal agendas so much get in the way. It’s a small critical mass fighting for the leopard, when I eventually do publish my book there will be eyebrows raised at some of the things that have happened. Right now, it’s a really crucial time and based on what we know is happening there is almost certainty a leopard in great pain in a snare trap right now, soon there will be another one and it goes on. We have the strategies to prevent this, we’re working hard to get the right people on board, there’s been success but the bottom line is we are losing. The general public needs to do a better job for the leopard, you can’t leave it all to us, there’s been more than enough awareness…
19 January 2019 – Follow Up
FOLLOW UP: This will be my last post for a while, there’s a lot going on but just to follow from the blog on 17 January (below), THE POACHER’S SNARE, as I mentioned there were quite a few messages from people asking for help re anti snare tactics. I will reply to everyone, just give me a few days. Re news like the one below, not every case goes to media so as to safeguard investigation and of course known cases are only a percentage of leopard deaths we don’t know about. The bottom line is the leopard is in real trouble, particularly in India and Nepal, not enough is being done about it. We’re trying our best.
— WildTiger (@WildTigerNews) January 19, 2019
17 January 2019 – The Poacher’s Snare
Blog – The Poacher’s Snare
In 2003 shortly after 109 leopard skins had been seized in Kathmandu, I met with Dr Chandra Gurung in the same city. Chandra, at the time with WWF Nepal, spoke of the difficulty getting support for leopard conservation because the spotted cat was not on Nepal’s protected species list. Around that time there were other seizures and arrests, it was the tiger cases which always took preference. It was during a difficult passage for Nepal as the insurgency, essentially a civil war, was in full swing. Poaching was rife as army battalions which would normally be focused on anti-poaching were otherwise deployed.
Sadly Chandra, a good man, died in a helicopter crash a few years later. Sadly, nearly 16 years after that conversation, the leopard is still not on Nepal’s protected species list.
Nepal is a microcosm for the plight of the leopard because the fact is the species is persecuted throughout its global range. Recent poaching figures from India indicate no slow down in that country. Trophy hunting of leopards continues in thirteen African countries. Add to this the many retaliation killings because of human – leopard conflict and the fact that the leopard has lost 75 percent of its range globally.
This adds up to many thousands of leopards losing their lives to the human hand and that’s just since the turn of this century. We’re currently working on statistics as part of a report for mid year release but even though we have a huge amount of data, there cannot be great accuracy because poaching is a darkness which hides a lot of its evil. What we do know is the numbers are frightening and for an animal that is found in over 70 countries there are few safe havens. As time goes by this blog will give more of those details.
However, despite the shocking figures it is my own personal experiences which in many ways have caused me to rethink. Witnessing awful retaliation killings, very sad instances of children losing their lives to leopards and constantly confronting apathy mixed with politics, agendas and ineptitude have been part of my recent time frame, these last few years. There’s also been some incredible experiences, not least actually living with a leopard during a rewilding project., a story which I have shared some of but the full account is for another day. It was a time which taught me more than I could have ever imagined and reinforced my resolve to protect big cats. I saw the world through a leopard’s eyes while up there on that mountain with him, it changed me.
Right now though I want to say a few words about a form of poaching which revolts me, I’ve seen with my own eyes just too much horror because of it.
Perhaps no other dynamic sums up the sheer persecution of the leopard. I’ve written before about certain instances but seeing a magnificent animal literally ripped to shreds because of its struggles to escape from a snare are visions I can’t ever shake off. Different snares work in different ways and if the skin is the target for a trader then a long painful death can result. Or it can be faster if the poacher arrives on the scene while the cat is still alive, a bullet may be used but perhaps not, perhaps another slower lethal means. Other traps where the noose means neck or body is snared may mean a gradual shredding as the leopard fights. Seeing the results of this, particularly if the animal is still alive, is not for the faint of heart, it shouldn’t be for anyone. A claw trap is a brutal spring clamp, the pain must be excruciating, these are often aimed at animals like bears, leopards get caught in them too.
Of course it’s not just leopards which get caught in snares. A lively bush meat market throughout south Asia isn’t just about remote villages, it’s about restaurants in Kathmandu, Delhi and many other cities. Deer and other meat is served up to those in the know. These animals are prey for leopard, tiger and other carnivores so their demise is a disturbance of habitat and there is enough written about the tragic human-wildlife conflict ramifications that everyone reading this should know. No food in the forest means big cats look elsewhere and having spent time with many families of victims of big cat attacks I can tell you there are some absolute horror stories. So this means that the ‘fat cats’ eating bush meat at a restaurant table are contributing to the whole unstable situation. Not to mention the totally inhumane way that deer and other wildlife die in a snare trap, just like leopard.
I hate snare traps.
To me they are the epitome of cruelty. They represent the coward.
But this begs the question of what is happening to the leopard. The world has known of the slaughter so why is there not the same support for this animal as there is for the so called icon species? Do you want me to video a leopard caught in a snare trap? Do you want me to show the actual brutality?
Right now I’m following up some leopard body parts seizure cases and working on anti-poaching activity to reduce snares. There’s other work surrounding leopard conservation which will be mentioned in future blogs, it involves coexistence strategy and leopard rehabilitation but for now, here are some questions to ponder, to think about:
If we are losing a leopard a day to poachers in South Asia alone what is the ecological effect of that?
Why, despite being the apex predator through vast areas of its range does the plight of the leopard only get lip service from most of the major conservation organizations?
Following on from that why in its recent publication Inside the Himalayas did WWF not once mention the leopard despite the seriousness of poaching and human-leopard conflict? Yes, it was about the usual darlings, tiger, snow leopard and rhino … is panthera pardus not even worth a mention?
Are the elite sitting in restaurants knowingly eating illegal bushmeat any less culpable that the poacher?
Why does the outrage culture make so much noise when we present the problems but give very little tangible support to an animal that has just as much right to it as tiger, rhino and elephant?
Why has the thousands of leopard trophies imported into the US after their slaughter in African nations not raised the ire of the masses that trophy hunting of other species does?
What’s it like to be looked in the eye and told directly “no, there’s no poaching here” before going off and finding five snare traps in the space of 30 minutes?
What’s it like being a leopard conservationist and being told “we want a leopard free zone!”
What would it be like to be a leopard caught in a snare…
These are just a few of the issues that will be touched on in future blog posts. We’re not that far away from Chinese New Year at which point it will be three years until the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. I don’t really want a leopard day or year or whatever. I just want this animal to get a fair deal. The team and myself will be fighting for the leopard until that happens. And then we won’t stop.
Support the leopard if you have the courage…
In the first instance, to hold a photo exhibition in which I can live stream to your audience and where we supply the images, find out more HERE.