I’m getting a lot of questions from both here and overseas about my bond with Asa and what will happen in the future. In the photo by James, I am about to pick up the leopard cub and help guide him in the next step along our path, our process. Ok, keep reading…
Those who have observed Asa here in Nepal know there is a real wild streak about him and that we doing our best to make sure that is maintained and enhanced. As I’ve said before Asa is a huge asset in the study of leopard behaviour and human/wildlife conflict. Keeping Asa semi-wild is crucial to that study.
I’ve been working with Asa for just over six weeks now. What we have now is a healthy and secure leopard who is around 15 weeks old. More weigh ins have to be made over the coming months so as to be accurate with his age. Asa lives in his den at the Range Post in the forest area known to the locals as Raniban, adjoining Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city. I’ll soon be explaining the specifics of the area and how Asa’s future there can possibly work within the framework of the World Peace Biodiversity Garden. I am currently submitting a proposal to the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation who administer Raniban. Discussions will take place early next month and at that point Asa’s future will become clear.
Part of the Management Plan for Raniban is the building of a mini zoo. This was one of the log term objectives for the area. My proposal will be that rather than a zoo as such, a research centre is built. I am networking with several organizations on this issue including the Ministry which is made up of five departments governing fauna and flora. Other entities such as the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), tertiary institutions, local business people are all potential stakeholders in such a project. Getting the right people involved is key. Understanding the issues, the potential, the motivations and working within an under resourced challenging framework is not easy which is why some positive solid discussions with people like Bikram Shestra of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (no, Asa is not a snow leopard but the relevance from a study planning perspective is important) and Paras Singh of ACAP are vital as they come on board.
From the Ministry, District Forest Officer Prabhat Sapkota and his lieutenant Madhav Baral are progressive in their thinking and understand fully how Asa can be of incredible value to ultimately help reduce human/wildlife conflict and in fact save lives of both humans and big cats in the process.
Overseas interest has been strong and there have been some wonderful contribution as we set about stabilizing Asa’s situation in those initial weeks. A scared fragile animal has become a strong confident one thanks in part to that help. An outdoor enclosure was added to his den and Asa now has a safe secure environment that will see him through the coming months.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Asa now. I’m his boss, a term I prefer than mother or father. I could never be a match for his mother for obvious reasons. I can’t see in the dark the way a leopard can and I can’t pull a 100kg dead animal in my mouth many metres up a tree. These are just two of my many limitations. What I can provide I do. This includes making sure Asa is safe, fed and respected. I also train him to the best of my ability, for many, many hours. I watch him closely, I write hundreds of words in my notebook every day. I let him bite me and I bite him back. We climb trees together, we hang out and we fight.
I also protect him from outside factors that a young leopard, or any leopard for that matter, should not be subjected to. The other members of his immediate family are forest guards Shiva and Ananta. They have a rapport with Asa more like siblings. They play, Asa has a great time stealing their hats, running after them, they have fun, just the way a leopard does in the wild with fellow cubs. So far, Shiva, Ananta and I have had incidents making sure that eagles, young buffalo, snakes and people don’t harm Asa. During our forest sessions we are very protective.
These forest sessions, which take place several afternoons a week, are important. Asa gets the chance to run round, climb trees, explore, be a leopard in an area which all going well will be where his main enclosure is built. It’s a great place, the young leopard really likes it there.
I’m currently experimenting with public viewing of these sessions. This has replaced viewings at Asa’s den. These were counter productive. Asa didn’t like it. Leopards are private animals. Leopard cubs only want to spend time with their immediate family. Getting people to understand and respect this has not been easy. Those who read my blog a few days ago got a small taste of my frustration. I indicated there that changes had to be made.
So with the fantastic help of English photographer and environmentalist James Robinson I’ve been able to make sure that people stay hidden, quiet and respectful while they observe the forest sessions. James sets up a hide and makes sure everyone in it behaves themselves, he’s a big bloke 🙂
So far this is working. For Asa to be the semi wild leopard we need him to be, to be as much of leopard as he can be under the circumstances, we have to think outside the square. Next month, after the proposal has been submitted and discussions are further ahead, I’ll publish a more detailed report here of Asa’s life so far and what the future holds.
But the future for Asa and me? Yes, I understand the human interest story here. Those who know me best know that I am a very private person who is in actual fact happiest roaming around the mountains and jungles looking for animal shit and setting camera traps. But right now I am Asa’s boss and that is something I am integrating into all my other work here. Obviously Asa and I have bonded. We are always happy to see each other, we enjoy each other’s company a lot. We learn from each other.
The things is though, one day, probably about the middle of next year (2015), Asa will want, will need to be the boss. The whole dynamic will change. We will know when that is. He will tell me and I will move away from him. This is nature, this is natural, this is life. Asa is a leopard, not a human, he has different social needs, very different to ours. More than once in these blogs I have voiced my displeasure about the way many people try to humanize animals. To me this is taking away a fundamental right of being.
This project is not about me. It is about Asa and how he can help lessen the impact of many issues we are dealing with here. The bond between Asa and I is motivated by that because he is happiest when he is allowed to be a leopard. I, and the strong team I am forming around Asa, will do our utmost to make sure he has that right…
Credits: WildTiger – Jack Kinross