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Understanding human leopard conflict in Nepal

Camera traps have recently been installed in the forests of Nepal as part of a new study trying to gain a greater understanding of human leopard conflict. This new initiative comes in the wake of a spate of attacks in Bahnu Municipality, which have resulted in ten children losing their lives and a further six being injured. Authorities hope footage from these cameras will provide fresh insight into what is driving these leopards to attack children.

Early reports from the project suggest 25 leopards have been identified. This is really valuable information and will be useful when researchers try to determine whether they have sufficient access to food. However, it is not yet clear which of these individuals have been involved in conflict or what is causing them to behave in this way. These are, after all, complex issues, and there may be several factors involved, not all of which may be detected via cameras.

In 2021 WVI is hoping to complement existing efforts like these by assisting with the veterinary assessment of animals involved in such attacks. Some people may feel that a leopard which attacks a child does not deserve medical attention and instead should be locked away for everyone’s safety, or even that it should be caught and killed. This point of view is understandable, particularly if you knew the child concerned. But our hope is that by conducting detailed health assessments we may be able to determine why some of these animals are behaving the way they are in the first place. Perhaps they have a broken toe, after being caught in a snare, and now they find it difficult to catch their normal prey. Or maybe they have been infected with Canine Distemper Virus which has affected their brain and altered their behaviour. Who knows? Right now, the answer is no one does for sure.

Our team are currently planning their approach and working out how to make the most of your generous donations. This project is a major undertaking and will involve UK wildlife veterinarian, Jessica Bodgener, relocating to Nepal for two years. Once there, she will work alongside Dr Amir Sadaula and his team at the National Trust for Nature Conservation's new Wildlife Hospital. Getting the planning right really matters.

There are lots of exciting aspects to this project which we hope to start sharing with you soon, so keep an eye out for any updates. You can stay up to date by signing up to our newsletter here.

Photo credit: Srikaanth Sekar