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The human and leopard coexistence focus… and many thanks for the messages

The image was taken (on my birthday and a few days after Dad’s passing) very close to the spot where a little girl was killed by a leopard recently. Those who follow these posts and our work will know I’ve been putting a lot of time into tech which can be used as early warning systems (EWS). There’s still a long way to go with this but there’s been considerable progress and some success. Preventing that first fatality in a village area is the ultimate aim, it is all too often that due to scale and resource issues that response is reactive, we have to be more diligent in achieving communication so that all indicators are taken into account and attacks on people are minimized. Tolerance means less retaliation.

Reducing the numbers of leopards being killed for parts trafficking is vital too. Every death upsets territorial and ecological balances. There is this dangerous misconception that leopard numbers are ok, they’re not, there’s too many places where the big cat has disappeared completely and the rather ignorant view about leopard populations is a result of disconnect and misunderstanding. We must address that too. Right now as I write this in a different place, I’m staring at a database showing 42 incidents of leopard poaching/trafficking (with more pending) in Nepal alone since the start of 2020. Once again, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

We’re entering the six month window where it becomes cooler and humidity is not such a factor. It is the time of the year to get a lot done. My posts will have a strong solution focus and of collaborations being built. Real action is the main focus, the human and leopard coexistence paradigm is a shaky one and like so many aspects in our relationship with nature it must be improved, for the sake of all parties.

My Dad would expect me to work as hard as possible during this next window, he really understood the essence of all this, I’ll miss our chat very much, the memories inspire me though. Many thanks to those who sent thoughts since his passing, on my birthday too, people joined the dots.

Please continue to contact me with any leopard news you think might be relevant to help. I’ll have more soon on other ways to be involved and help, there’s been many months of preparation for that and as I reflect on the last few days I feel more determined than ever that we get coexistence to what it needs to be, there’s a lot riding on it…

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Feeling safe is key to coexisting with the leopard

Many thanks to those who have been in contact of late re leopard issues, update soon, I reply when I can. It’s difficult trying to increase tolerance of #leopard across this latitudinal belt because of the fear factor born by facts. For instance 455 people, including many children, have been killed by leopard in neighbouring Uttarakhand in the last 20 years alone. Increasing safety is key which is why putting sustained effort into early warning systems is a priority. Leopard and human activity in the same areas can work but it requires a buy in as to why leopards are important and why coexistence with this animal is actually fundamental, the leopard is the apex predator across a greater range than any other big cat species. Thus leopard conservation has an importance which has been overlooked for too long but people do need to feel safe, they need to be able to feel they can coexist with this animal. The challenge now is creating that safety net and the most important component is reducing attacks.

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In the human-leopard interface, as another child is lost, technology and communication are vital

I take a deep breath when my alert system triggers. Usually it gives information about poaching and trafficking incidents involving leopard but all too often of late it has been about human tragedy where people have been killed by the big cat. Last night a little girl, 18 months old, was playing in her front yard when she taken by a leopard, the 18th victim in neighboring Uttarakhand this year. I’m not going into more details of the death, out of respect for loved ones of victims I very rarely publish cases. They are incredibly traumatic events, especially when children are involved and having attended many cases, I have too many memories. The uncontrollable sobbing of a grandmother in my arms after she had lost her little grandson is something that comes back to me often.

Six alleged man-eater leopards have been shot in recent months in Uttarakhand alone with shoot to kill events also in other States and in Nepal. There are all sorts of reasons why attacks spike, I’m going into more detail on that in an update soon but I’m hell bent on improving early warning systems, we’ve proven they do work but it requires good communication within communities and with reporting to agencies about leopard movement something which is all too often lacking, that costs lives,

Another deep concern is the lack of understanding about big cat behaviour. It is important not to generalize about leopards and tigers as all individuals have their own characteristics but there are certain behaviour traits which if understood can also prevent loss of life. This education and awareness can be frustrating because there are people who ignore it, I have a list of tragic results of that.

This is an ongoing issue, the human-leopard interface is having too much death on both sides. Further tech advances, a large chunk of my day goes into this, involving machine learning and artificial intelligence are being tested right now in the field. Human behaviour is the constant variable however and very sadly, little children are innocent victims along with the leopards themselves.

Update 27 July 2021:
Re the post yesterday, the leopard was shot dead, the seventh in the State this year. There’s no doubt we’re past a tipping point in this dynamic, I’ll talk more about this next month but the trajectory isn’t good. As mentioned, there are solutions, the keys are the resources and will to implement them.

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Interim July post as persecution of leopard continues in South Asia

The image is one eight leopard skins seized in Odisha in the last few days, that Indian State remains along with the span of central to west Nepal (to the border with India and into Uttarakhand) the poaching/trafficking of leopard hotspot of South Asia.

As indicated in earlier posts the first half of 2021 has been the worst for leopards this century particularly in India and Nepal. Nearly midway in July and the problem continues unabated based on seizure data. Good policing has facilitated many arrests and confiscation of leopard (and other wildlife) body parts but that does not mask the seriousness of the problem. At WildTiger we’re working hard in collaboration with key partners to combat the issue. We’ve delayed the mid year update accordingly, it will come later in July as we continue efforts on the ground.

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UPDATE: Reality check – covid and poaching figures tell a serious story…

More on the health post situation (which is very positive but still needs help) down the page including a new fundraising link but India is 48 times the size of Nepal so if you multiply this by Nepal’s infection rate you can see just how serious the situation is, Nepal is in a worse case rate and death rate position. I use this comparison for leopard poaching, this year has been shocking and I’ll talk more about the figures in a future post but Nepal is probably the most unsafe place for leopards in the world right now, the pandemic one of the reasons why. The covid and poaching figures are closely linked in that there is a bad tendency for reaction rather than pro-action here. Foreigners as well need to question their own perception of Nepal, too many see it through this romantic masala tea, mountain view, tiger sighting type glasses which is so far from the reality of life here it’s pathetic. Yes, Nepal has caused its own undoing in many ways but there needs to be a united front of repairing the situation and stop hiding behind smiles which don’t tell the truth and the truth is that ‘namaste life’ masks a lot of pain in this country.

On a positive note people are joining together to get a covid isolation area put together here. Nirajan and David, in the image, are preparing to collect the first oxygen supply as I write this. In conjunction with the Municipality partners are coming on board and I sincerely thank WildTiger connected people for getting things kicked off, we’ll have some fully equipped beds ready later today. A big shout out to Jacqui Holth who I refer fundraising to now through that page, this has taken a lot of pressure off, I’ve got so much work on re the leopard situation. Here is the link connected to Bright Futures of Bardia – HERE – the funds collected include being for a doctor’s salary in this critical period before monsoon. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be working closely with this and other Health Posts regarding coexistence education, the improvement at this Thakurdwara Health Post mean much better support for those attacked by wildlife in the first instance.

This quote from resident UN coordinator Sara Beysolow Nyanti – who has been visiting overflowing hospitals where patients are being treated in corridors and courtyards, in scenes that “break my heart” – said she believed Nepal’s plight is being overshadowed by India, which this week became the second country after the United States to report more than 25 million infections. The link to that article explaining more about that situation is HERE.

I’ll update again soon. Once again, my thanks to those who care about this situation and are helping.

APPENDED 28 MAY

Dr. Bibhabasu Jnawali arrived in the area at 3am after a long journey. He will have an immediate case load of 42 and the clinic, thanks to initial support, is set up now for emergency breathing problem situations. It’s not the time for back slapping at all, the situation is serious and a lot more needs to be done but deserving mention goes to Ramesh Thapa (former BNP Chief Warden, now based in Ktm) of Ujalo Nepal for facilitating the employment of Dr.Bibhabasu Jnawali, to Jacqui Holth (based in Australia) of Bright Futures of Bardia for setting up the fund for the medical team at the link at the bottom and Dr Jenny Chen (based in New York) for fantastic support and guidance regarding medical matters and equipment. It is a team effort and those involved have helped with the basic human right of health care which will make a huge difference in the treatment of those injured by wildlife as well, for now the focus is very much on covid. There is still sadly a lot of ignorance and carelessness regarding safety guidelines which is why Nepal has the highest transmission rate in the world. We will strengthen our role in connection with the clinic for coexistence education/awareness as this is very much connected to the whole scenario. WildTiger’s Nirajan Chhetri will continue to work full time on clinic matters. I really have to get back to putting long hours re leopard trafficking but I’m happy to answer any questions from English speakers. Another update once more systems and understanding is in place. To support the medical team from this point go to link HERE.

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Keeping children and leopards safe…

Babu (Nirajan) with one of the posters which go on school and community notice boards, this one regarding leopard activity prior to monsoon, during the hot season. As I mentioned earlier, the fires affected the dynamic somewhat and already we are seeing the livestock depredation we predicted as leopards venture into village areas. The key now is making sure there is the utmost awareness regarding children’s safety. This morning I was in an area after an attack on livestock and thanks to very good work by the games scouts at the nearby range post with information I managed to track the cat and get an understanding of the situation. Talking to the families closest to the attack location and really hammering home guidelines for children’s safety will be followed up tomorrow with more of the same. I’ve got to admit, out of all the conflict types, it is the attacks on children which are the most gut wrenching, I have so many memories of this with cases over the years, a woman sobbing uncontrollably in my arms one of the most poignant after her grandchild was taken by leopard. It is why I feel the work must go in, it is coexistence in its most raw form as when children are taken the tolerance which up to then can be high simply evaporates and retaliation which is understandable given the trauma, takes place, sometimes on a mass scale where no leopard is safe. Prevention, being proactive is key. This type of conservation often seems totally incongruent with those who are more preoccupied with icon species counting and so forth. More resources need to go into these raw coexistence situations. Anyway, we’ve got cameras out, the team is determined and we’ll work with the CBAPU network to get guidelines in the right places and follow up with seasonal alterations. I wish we had the resources to really expand these operations, I know they work but it needs buy in from communities and it needs support from genuine wildlife lovers who care about people too, not just pretty pictures on social media. Just keeping it real…

Appended 26 April:

REGARDING COEXISTENCE GUIDELINES, THE NEED TO BE DYNAMIC… Yesterday Phil (a good boke) of Tiger Awareness asked about receiving guideline posters and over the months others have asked . At WildTiger we’re preparing different guidelines for download, that’s the easiest way and we’re also working on an app. It needs to be a dynamic approach though, the guidelines need to be distributed through effective channels and continually followed up along with monitoring systems. It’s 2021, things are fluid, the coexistence paradigm is ever changing. I get frustrated by what we referred to yesterday as ‘tea and biscuits’ conservation where there’s so much talk and a photo opportunity under a banner. Those days are gone, that approach barely works. We have to be dynamic, proactive and preemptive. In covid conditions this is even more important, unnecessary gatherings are killing. More soon as different guidelines are produced, the one in the image is in Nepali and English re leopard activity pre monsoon, just one factor but an important one right now, see yesterday’s post.

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Wildlife crime is a societal problem, it needs to be treated as such…

A recent seizure, leopard skin, bones and claws. On another platform yesterday a post re leopard poaching resulted in an ‘off air’ discussion, the agreement being that wildlife crime is a societal problem but the conservation sector is constantly in the firing line from the public who take little responsibility beyond armchair activism. It’s all very well firing shots, anyone can do that, one day in a larger body of work I’ll explain what it has been like constantly listening to those shots, sometimes even being aimed at. In the meantime western Nepal is a hotspot for leopard poaching/trafficking and covid is making it harder to combat due to resources. My own focus is very much on this issue, there are people trying, albeit not enough, maybe a few of those firing shots could actually give real support instead of criticism. Wildlife crime definitely is a societal problem, a serious one. It needs to be treated as such. We’re all in this. The pandemic is one of many problems exposing our poor treatment of nature. Wildlife crime is a big part of that.

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Leopards and fires…

It was an eerie feeling early this morning being in an area I know so well as the fire finally burnt itself out apart from a few little flames here and there. The Leopard Refuge Station itself was ok, it has survived many things including wild elephants and floods, now this. Repairs will start straight away, renovations had been delayed anyway. We’ll have to act quickly, we’re into that time when conflict spikes due to water shortages. A juvenile leopardess was seen leaving the burnt area close to these images, heading towards the buffer zone, I hope the fire hasn’t meant she’s been separated from her mother. The fire will mean prey will congregate where there is vegetation, this could mean tension between predators as various animals seek food in new territories. This is not good news for leopards which are already under pressure from tigers and humans. The fires have meant big changes in plans, that is what it is, adaptability is key when every big cat is precious. Nepal is burning, sometimes I wonder when it’s not, the literal and the metaphor mixed in a country with many challenges…

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The Boss, a leopard doing his best for a species up against it…

The top is The Boss, the bottom at the same location, is one of his girlfriends and I’ve put boxes around two tiny offspring. This isn’t the post I’d planned, I’ll have more about these particular leopards at a later date but it’s been a really rough start for leopards in India and Nepal for 2021 based on poaching/seizure data for the first 3 months. It’s actually 18 years to the day since a seizure of 109 leopard skins in Kathmandu, I was in the region, it happened at a time when the armed conflict was still peaking, a type of civil war which changed the country. For the leopard however, not much has changed, it is still persecuted, it is still a conservation blind spot, it is still an animal very few care about and the task of trying to get the species a fair deal is extremely hard. Getting to understand leopards such as The Boss is learning how hard it is for these animals, what they are up against and those who have followed my own efforts (and I thank you) know that I have tried as hard as I can to see the world through the eyes of the leopard, I do my best to create a picture of what is really happening. The Boss operates in a difficult environment, he has tigers on one side, humans on the other, he walks a fine line. He has I believe 3 girlfriends in his territory plus possibly now a 4th after a remarkable relationship with a young female in rehabilitation, now free, something I put a lot of heart and soul into. So the story of The Boss is a compelling one, he does have the advantage of living mainly in protected area but for many leopards there’s no such luxury, poachers operate with impunity, leopard bones, claws, teeth and skins are of value in a messed up economy created by man. Other leopards are killed in retaliation simply because they are misunderstood, they are just trying to survive in a world beyond their control. The two tiny cubs you see here face an uncertain future, their story is yet to unfold, some of us are trying very hard to make sure they can have that story. This year I’ll be story telling about different leopards in the hope you become part of that effort…

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Warnings given, not heeded … the result of that, tragedy

I’ve made a couple of light hearted posts today with images about #BardiaLife at Facebook but there are times to keep it real. In this coexistence situation, you can see the two images from the same camera at different times (note the light), the reference point being the cut branches on the bottom left of each image. Understanding behaviour dynamics of both wildlife and people is key to how we can improve coexistence but once again, big cats will only modify behaviour if we do. The area this happened isn’t far away from the most recent fatality, we did give a lot of warnings, sadly they were not heeded. As much as I would love to spend time taking pictures of pretty animals etc, talking about ‘I love nature’ and all that stuff, that actually isn’t conservation. If I’m going to be raw and real about it from the coexistence perspective, for many of us conservation is about stopping big cats and people from killing each other and those of you who follow my posts on this know there is a lot of improvement needed. We’re trying. More on this soon very much from the perspective of the most persecuted entity in all this, the leopard.