Fighting For The Leopard
Many thanks to those who have followed my blogs over the years. For 2019 I’m stepping things up a notch with a new blog called FIGHTING FOR THE LEOPARD, the first of which starts further down this page.
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.
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…
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