In my previous incarnation as an international chemistry/science teacher, one of the things I taught my student about was plagiarism. In the academic world of some educational institutions in some countries, the punishment for plagiarism is expulsion.
Of course passing someone else’s idea or work or product as ones own–regardless of what it is–and personally benefiting from it, is of course wrong whether you do it as a student or a professional.
Recently I discovered a case of just that in the professional world of wild life conservation in Nepal.
What he has been shooting since 1994, when–based in Manang–he started working on the side as a Citizen Scientist for Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), is the beautiful and illusive but endangered mountain cat: snow leopard.
(In addition to Manang, the cat is also found in Mustang, the district I am from. I grew up hearing stories about the cat and it’s “destructive” ways from my older relatives!)
What’s more, he has also photographed a rare cat which, until he had come along, had NEVER been sighted in the country: the Pallas Cat (Otocolobus manul) (see header image)!
Within days of the cat being caught on camera, not recognizing it, Tashi published the photos on Facebook and it was immediately identified as such!
In a number of other publications too (see below for a partial list), my friend is appropriately credited with the discovery and all his photos of the cat carry his name, as does the Nepalese name of the cat itself: Tashi Biralo (Tashi=”Good Luck” in Tibetan, and Biralo=”Cat” in Nepalese)!
As recently as early this month, in an article published in the Nepali Times, Tashi is rightly credited with the discovery.
What’s more on September 26, 2014, Tashi had a scoop: he filmed the cat, at the highest altitude to date to boot!
But someone else, a Bikram Shrestha, who–at the time–was the Coordinator for Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC), appears to have credited the photos AND the discovery to himself.
In the SLC article Bikram goes to great lengths to describe the discovery citing Tashi as a “local assistant.” He credits the setting up of the camera traps to himself. However, in personal communications to me and in the article published in Nepali Times, Tashi refutes that, saying that he set up the camera which captured the cat.
In an article published in the Spring 2014 issue (#60) of Cat News, apparently written by himself but credited to five others as well, Bikram gives Tashi a mere thank you “for his assistance in data-collection and camera-trapping.” (See below for more publications.)
When the discovery had been officially confirmed and the announcement was to be made at a press meet in February 2014–long after Tashi had confirmed it on his Facebook page in December 2013–Bikram connived to take all the credit for himself.
Firstly, far from consulting Tashi about the press meet date, Bikram kept evading the question whenever Tashi asked about it. Secondly, Bikram set the date AFTER Tashi had left for Manang. (For obvious reasons, he did not even have the courtesy to inform Tashi.)
Way back in October 2014, I contacted Cat News Editor and National Geographic. Email exchanges with Cat News Editor and another individual–whose name also appears in the Cat News article–lead to a further discovery. Not only had Bikram NOT given credit where due, he appears to have given credit where it WASN’T due!
One of the six named individuals in the article, when the article was being drafted, specifically asked Bikram NOT to include his and another colleague’s name, AND, furthermore, to credit Tashi! But, as the article shows, Bikram ignored his requests!
(I never heard from National Geographic.)
Regardless, in the three months since the exchanges, Bikram has not responded. That, in spite of the fact that months ago, Tashi tells me, he promised to correct the errors.
I decided to publish the story here, firstly, because, as an academic and an educator, I could not stand by and allow this sham to continue.
Secondly–and more importantly–to highlight the commendable accomplishments of my photographer friend and amazing wild life conservationist Tashi! If you are a wild life conservationist and a photographer, you might want to follow his work as–I am pretty certain–he’ll make more discoveries and will have more amazing photos and stories to share!
If I were Bikram and if I were indeed responsible for the discovery, I would have asked Tashi to refrain from taking credit for the photos AND would have asked him to stop making the claims that he does make. (See below for a partial list of articles about Tashi’s discovery.)
But, as far as I know, he hasn’t! That, to me, says it all!
* * * * * * * *
Articles in which Tashi is rightly credited for his photos AND the discovery of the cat:
- Nepali Times: Nepal’s Good Luck Cat
- Nepalese article in Revoscience.com: Two Popular Cats of Nepal (Online version is not available.)
- Image of an article whose source is not known: New Cat Species Spotted in Upper Mustang (Upper Mustang should have read Manang!)
Articles in which Bikram has credited the photos of Pallas’s Cat and/or the discovery to himself:
- Spring 2014 issue (#60) of Cat News: Nepal First Pallas’s Cat
- Snow Leopard Conservancy: Discovery of first Pallas’s Cat in Nepal
- National Geographic: Discovery of First Pallas’s Cat in Nepal (A comment at the bottom make the same claim that Tashi and I do!)
- ECS Nepal: Out of the Bag a New Predator in Nepal
- My Republica: New wild cat species found in ACAP area
Articles where Tashi’s name is mentioned but not directly credited:
- Saving Snow Leopard Report: Snow leopard helps find other rare cat in Nepal
- The Himalayan Times: Rare wild cat found in Annapurna region