(October 2022 update – This post has two small additions after the first publication). The Annapurna Himalaya is a place which defines my relationship with mountains, with nature really, and my determination that leopards as a symbol of nature have safe haven. Read on for the first update as the Annapurna Leopard Project and the Sacred Valley Concept evolve. It’s about protection of nature because if we keep extracting resources from these places, it is simply not sustainable so not only will the cities which consume so much suffer but the mountain will degrade too…

Najarman (above) cares about what is happening in the mountains he was raised.  The Gurung people are carved out of the landscape, mostly the mighty Annapurna Himalaya.  In the twelve years I’ve known Najarman, since the previous Year of the Tiger, we’ve witnessed the change in these mountains.  Like too much of the planet, there’s no doubt the next twelve years and the way human influence is conducted are crucial for the future.

The Annapurna is an important place on our planet for its beauty and global significance regarding biodiversity and climate change.  The Himalaya has been identified in the recent Living Planet Report as high priority in the biodiversity crisis.  Several years based on the lowland Terai and understanding tiger politics and its relationship to community was a strong learning curve for me and now being back in the Annapurna region has meant time to reflect on that but more importantly how this magnificent section of the Himalaya has such a role as a model going forward regarding coexistence and conservation policy in general most especially in regard to community.  Over the years I’ve spent much time in the Annapurna, I once went eight months without seeing a motor vehicle, I have a deep affinity with the area for many reasons.

The Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is not a national park.  There are many communities dotted in its confines, the ACA is not under fortress conservation mentality.  It is one of the world’s most renowned trekking areas but it also has places which are still virtually untouched by man, that is by choice of the local communities.  Those places are now more important than ever especially for a persecuted species like the leopard but there are worrying signs with the ever tightening grip of ‘development’ as well as the ongoing issues of poaching and retaliation.  Changes in land use, as in many regions of the leopard’s range, have led to increased human – leopard conflict.

From this point on in updates (I’m currently following up some leopard poaching/trafficking cases) I’ll go deeper into these issues, the importance of the Annapurna in the way forward, how the predator – prey relationship, an essentially scientific construct in our understanding of the term, has deep significance in Beyul, a Buddhist approach to our interaction with nature.  Within this and what we call the Sacred Valley Concept, I’ll bring more about my long time friend Najarman and others, their actions and thoughts are incredibly meaningful with regard to their homeland, the Annapurna.  In the same context, it is actually the story of leopards, the community and how to work closely with the managing body, the National Trust for Nature Conservation which I’ve had many collaborations with over the years in building a sustainable future in this vital landscape.  We’re in the most critical time in how we humans shape future coexistence everywhere, there’s so much riding on it all.  Education platforms are fundamental to this, some good developments are happening.

There’s so many issues in places where people and leopards live.  Our aim is that the Annapurna be developed as a model and barometer for coexistence.  It has to happen now.  As an apex predator through much of the vast Himalayan jungles, the leopard must be given a priority status as an umbrella species, this is very much key to the way forward, we’re working hard on the way to make that happen.

Touching now on the incredibly important issue regarding predator and prey base ratios in relation to the deadly conflict between humans and leopards in too many places in South Asia, I just want to say this is a strong theme in the updates to come over the approaching Himalayan winter. One of the grim realities in every area I’ve spent time in where children have been killed by leopards is the lack of natural prey. This essentially means that by wiping out these prey species the brutal ramification has been these tragic fatalities and the resulting retaliation. Children and leopards, the innocent victims. Avoiding this storm in the Annapurna is a major goal, the examples of the current situation in Kashmir and just south of where I write this in Tanahun, where thirteen children have been killed by leopards in the last few years, are sobering examples.

Over the next few months the ridgelines in the image, as well as the forests below them will be brought to you in more detail as the Sacred Valley Concept within the Annapurna Leopard Project evolves. As I mentioned at the start, this is a place close to my heart, very much a home, the wildlife and habitat retain the true essence of wild, the need to protect and maintain safe haven has never been stronger but through Mission Leopard we’re only acting as a vehicle to work alongside community in the blend of citizen science meeting Beyul, a representation of spirituality, our souls doing the right thing for nature.

Our consciousness as a species is being critically tested right now in our response to the biodiversity crisis and climate change. Two entities such as the Annapurna and the leopard are powerful examples of current trajectory, which is worrying but also how solutions are there.

LeopardEye is the tool, the first phase is the trust and the rapport with community, seeing the benefits of deeper understanding along with the opportunity combined with the necessity for children, the future stewards, to learn.

I thank those who care.  You can give a little easy help to our coexistence strategies, protecting by people and leopards, by going to Touching the Mountain.

For the next few months I’ll also stay in touch through Twitter HERE.

Appended 22 October 22

I don’t know, maybe this image could be called grandfathers for coexistence but I’ll be honest, my smile is masking a deep sadness after another little girl was killed by a leopard not far away yesterday. Internationally renowned film maker Fred Fougea is a master story teller in his work, I guess being of similar age and understanding what has happened to our planet in the time we’ve been alive, we both examine this through our own lenses, Fred as a wildlife film maker with the human interest element, and me, with what I do. For the last three days we’ve touched on many subjects within this, both concerned about the deep misunderstandings regarding coexistence, that little girl yesterday, a graphic example of how there needs to be more care for the vulnerable, the fact that children and leopards are the innocent victims in an ongoing conflict with a lot of trauma on both sides. I have zero tolerance for wildlife advocates who don’t delve into the human side, that is making the situation worse, my own determination that we reduce the carnage for both wildlife and people, especially children, will not be influenced by agendas of those which are simply about exploitation. Fred gets it and this thing needs skilled story tellers like him, people need to broaden their understanding quickly, the trajectory we’re on as a species isn’t a good one but there’s hope. Hope won’t bring back that little girl from yesterday however. Help if you can and watch this space.

Appended 23 October 2022

Just briefly following on, this leopard represents the conflict in many ways. A magnificent, prime of life male, he came to us after he’d been shot, dying of his injuries soon after I took this image. Our lack of resources once again exposed, it is another case out of so many that persuades me to focus on prevention. I have taken a personal interest in this case, the need to understand why this beautiful cat was killed, if it was retaliation or targeted poaching (usually poisoning or snares). It is a very difficult investigation for many reasons, it will be seen through however no matter what, the absolute need for greater understanding and truth telling so there is more action is urgent. I thank those who help, it’s very easy, just go to Touching the Mountain. I’ll be back in November updates.