Leopard Rewilding Program

Below is an overview of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a pilot program in Nepal:

The Leopard Task Force is also involved with the establishment of purpose built leopard rescue and rehabilitation facilities which include the current pilot project the Leopard Rewilding Program (LRP) which is currently in test phase in Nepal.  Many of you may have arrived at this page because of your interest in Asa, the first leopard in the program. Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations.  Below is an outline of the LRP and there will be a publication by WildTiger Coordinator Jack Kinross titled “The Story of Asa, the Leopard of Hope.” As written in the outline below two more leopards are now in Stage 2 and being supervised by Dr Aashish Gurung of the National Trust for Nature Conservation.  There will be a report on the LRP at an appropriate stage.

Leopard Rewilding Program (LRP)

The LRP is a collaboration between:

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)

National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC)

WildTiger Conservation Research and Development (WildTiger)

On 4 February 2014 a very small leopard cub that had been handed to the District Forest Office barely three weeks before was shown to WildTiger Coordinator Jack Kinross. The decision was made shortly after that the cub (named Asa which is a word for “hope”) would be rehabilitated with a view to study in regards to the ongoing issues involved with human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. A den was set up at the District Forest Office Range Post in the Raniban forest near Pokhara.

A Stage 1 rehabilitation process took place with Asa receiving many hours of training in his den area as well as daily jungle sessions where he practiced his skills, particularly the very strong leopard characteristic of tree climbing.  Asa showed considerable progress very quickly and studies were done to test his tolerance of human contact outside of his small team of handlers. Brief public viewing sessions were available at his den and there were several sessions where researchers and photographers could view the young leopard from behind hide screens in the jungle area behind Asa’s enclosure.

As the weeks went by the idea that Asa could be rewilded was explored. Prabhat Sapkota, District Forest Officer Kaski region and Paras B. Singh, the officer in charge of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) Ghandruk’s office discussed the idea with Jack Kinross. Meetings were held with local communities in the Annapurna area and the decision was reached that Asa would undergo further rewilding training (with handler Jack Kinross) in an area with a suitable prey density in the Himalaya. A site was chosen at considerable distance from human dwellings.  At the point the Leopard Rewilding Program was formalized within the Code of Practice as set out by WildTiger Conservation Research and Development.

The main purpose behind the Leopard Rewilding Program is to give leopards of different ages the chance to be rehabilitated in a natural environment with minimal human contact and to increase understanding of leopard behaviour.

The rewilding of these predators means they can be placed into ecosystems where leopard numbers have been reduced due to human activity. There are several areas in Nepal where the ecology has been altered because of this.  A two stage process is being tested as outlined below:

STAGE 1 – Orphaned leopard cubs or juvenile/adult leopards are taken in to a temporary den area and are cared for until such time as they are deemed suitable for Stage 2.  This den area will ideally be located within a purpose built rescue and rehabilitation facility with a rewilding component as part of the overall program.  Veterinary care, an exercise regime and social interaction with their handlers takes place according to the particular needs of each leopard. Several jungle sessions each week are an important component.  Isolation is the key aspect with human contact restricted to only specialist leopard handlers.

STAGE 2 – Ideally cubs approaching seven months of age can be placed into a Stage 2 location chosen to complete the separation process as part of the outcome for the sub-adult leopards to live independently in the wild.

 A Non-invasive tracking system using micro technology is currently in development. The use of real time camera traps and other advanced technology are important aspects of this stage. Leopards are given much more freedom and encouraged at all times to act on their instincts. Human contact is restricted to handlers and the location is off limits to non LRP personnel.

Monitoring will be ongoing and valuable data obtained with regard to leopard behaviour.  At all times during the two stage process wildlife and human safety procedures are the priorities. 

UPDATE October 2016 – The leopard known as Asa is now living independently with the situation being monitored.  Leopards known as Tika and Ram are now in Stage 2 at an isolated, confidential location under the supervision of NTNC Conservation Officer Dr Aashish Gurung with support from NTNC wildlife technicians.  The leopards are currently establishing their own territories.

UPDATE MARCH 2017 -A female juvenile leopard known as Dipnani is currently in isolation after separation from her mother in a village area on the India-Nepal border.  Dipnani enters Stage 2 of the program during March and will be monitored by DNPWC and WildTiger technicians in an isolated confidential zone.

PLEASE NOTE: A Code of Practice adhering to the philosophy and ethics of WildTiger Conservation Research and Development is being applied to all facets of the Leopard Task Force.  This ensures the fair treatment of people and wildlife involved.  This page is published in accordance with the ethics, philosophy and guidelines as set out by: WildTiger Conservation Research and Development – wildtiger.org

For further information contact Jack Kinross – jk@wildtiger.org

This page will be updated after a review of the program later in 2017.