~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)
Mahi Puri and colleagues have conducted extensive surveys to find out what leopards eat and how might leopard diets change in the future. The study focuses on the important corridor between Kanha and Pench national parks. Leopards live within and outside of forests, with some taking up residence in the agricultural matrix. Wildlife outside the bounds of protected areas interact much more often with humans over a range of human activities – grazing cattle, growing crops and collecting non-timber forest produce to name a few. Understanding how our human lives affect and in turn change the behavior of wild species is important for a future where humans and big cats might continue to live side by side in one of the world’s more populated places that remains vital for global wildlife conservation goals. In addition, the knowledge of benefits provided by carnivore presence can help offset the negative perceptions around these species. Mahi Puri and her team extensively surveyed forest and households across the corridor to make sense of drivers of leopard distribution, conflict, and current patterns of their diet to showcase what might change in the future.
The big takeaway from this paper is that within the surveyed sites leopards predominantly ate wild prey (langur and ungulates) – an important consideration for human-wildlife conflict in the region. Occupancy statistics also highlight that leopards are more likely to be in spots with ample wild-prey confirming that leopards still prefer wild-prey and are not preferentially moving into human dominated areas for non-wild prey (signified by cattle and dog icons in the figures).
With rapid demographic shifts, humans continue to expand into previously ‘wild’ areas. With continued loss of forested areas and subsequent decline in wild prey, we begin to see that substitutions would mostly come from cattle. Furthermore, a decline in leopard populations due to removal or retaliatory killing could increase incidents of crop raiding by wild herbivores. The study provides a clear case for maintaining a balance between predators and wild prey populations to ensure low levels of conflict in this region of the world. The importance of maintaining connectivity between parks therefore reduces future conflict between wild animals that do not live within the bounds of protected areas.
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