Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf: Food Habits and Prey Selection in the Central Himalayas, Nepal.
ABSTRACT: Top carnivores play an important role in maintaining energy flow and functioning of the ecosystem, and a clear understanding of their diets and foraging strategies is essential for developing effective conservation strategies. In this paper, we compared diets and prey selection of snow leopards and wolves based on analyses of genotyped scats (snow leopards n = 182, wolves n = 57), collected within 26 sampling grid cells (5×5 km) that were distributed across a vast landscape of ca 5000 km2 in the Central Himalayas, Nepal. Within the grid cells, we sampled prey abundances using the double observer method. We found that interspecific differences in diet composition and prey selection reflected their respective habitat preferences, i.e. snow leopards significantly preferred cliff-dwelling wild ungulates (mainly bharal, 57% of identified material in scat samples), whereas wolves preferred typically plain-dwellers (Tibetan gazelle, kiang and argali, 31%). Livestock was consumed less frequently than their proportional availability by both predators (snow leopard = 27%; wolf = 24%), but significant avoidance was only detected among snow leopards. Among livestock species, snow leopards significantly preferred horses and goats, avoided yaks, and used sheep as available. We identified factors influencing diet composition using Generalized Linear Mixed Models. Wolves showed seasonal differences in the occurrence of small mammals/birds, probably due to the winter hibernation of an important prey, marmots. For snow leopard, occurrence of both wild ungulates and livestock in scats depended on sex and latitude. Wild ungulates occurrence increased while livestock decreased from south to north, probably due to a latitudinal gradient in prey availability. Livestock occurred more frequently in scats from male snow leopards (males: 47%, females: 21%), and wild ungulates more frequently in scats from females (males: 48%, females: 70%). The sexual difference agrees with previous telemetry studies on snow leopards and other large carnivores, and may reflect a high-risk high-gain strategy among males.
Project description:An increasing proportion of the world's poor is rearing livestock today, and the global livestock population is growing. Livestock predation by large carnivores and their retaliatory killing is becoming an economic and conservation concern. A common recommendation for carnivore conservation and for reducing predation on livestock is to increase wild prey populations based on the assumption that the carnivores will consume this alternative food. Livestock predation, however, could either reduce or intensify with increases in wild prey depending on prey choice and trends in carnivore abundance. We show that the extent of livestock predation by the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia intensifies with increases in the density of wild ungulate prey, and subsequently stabilizes. We found that snow leopard density, estimated at seven sites, was a positive linear function of the density of wild ungulates-the preferred prey-and showed no discernible relationship with livestock density. We also found that modelled livestock predation increased with livestock density. Our results suggest that snow leopard conservation would benefit from an increase in wild ungulates, but that would intensify the problem of livestock predation for pastoralists. The potential benefits of increased wild prey abundance in reducing livestock predation can be overwhelmed by a resultant increase in snow leopard populations. Snow leopard conservation efforts aimed at facilitating increases in wild prey must be accompanied by greater assistance for better livestock protection and offsetting the economic damage caused by carnivores.
Project description:Accurate information about the diet of large carnivores that are elusive and inhabit inaccessible terrain, is required to properly design conservation strategies. Predation on livestock and retaliatory killing of predators have become serious issues throughout the range of the snow leopard. Several feeding ecology studies of snow leopards have been conducted using classical approaches. These techniques have inherent limitations in their ability to properly identify both snow leopard feces and prey taxa. To examine the frequency of livestock prey and nearly-threatened argali in the diet of the snow leopard, we employed the recently developed DNA-based diet approach to study a snow leopard population located in the Tost Mountains, South Gobi, Mongolia. After DNA was extracted from the feces, a region of ?100 bp long from mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene was amplified, making use of universal primers for vertebrates and a blocking oligonucleotide specific to snow leopard DNA. The amplicons were then sequenced using a next-generation sequencing platform. We observed a total of five different prey items from 81 fecal samples. Siberian ibex predominated the diet (in 70.4% of the feces), followed by domestic goat (17.3%) and argali sheep (8.6%). The major part of the diet was comprised of large ungulates (in 98.8% of the feces) including wild ungulates (79%) and domestic livestock (19.7%). The findings of the present study will help to understand the feeding ecology of the snow leopard, as well as to address the conservation and management issues pertaining to this wild cat.
Project description:An understanding of local perceptions of carnivores is important for conservation and management planning. In the central Himalayas, Nepal, we interviewed 428 individuals from 85 settlements using a semi-structured questionnaire to quantitatively assess local perceptions and tolerance of snow leopards and wolves. We used generalized linear mixed effect models to assess influential factors, and found that tolerance of snow leopards was much higher than of wolves. Interestingly, having experienced livestock losses had a minor impact on perceptions of the carnivores. Occupation of the respondents had a strong effect on perceptions of snow leopards but not of wolves. Literacy and age had weak impacts on snow leopard perceptions, but the interaction among these terms showed a marked effect, that is, being illiterate had a more marked negative impact among older respondents. Among the various factors affecting perceptions of wolves, numbers of livestock owned and gender were the most important predictors. People with larger livestock herds were more negative towards wolves. In terms of gender, males were more positive to wolves than females, but no such pattern was observed for snow leopards. People's negative perceptions towards wolves were also related to the remoteness of the villages. Factors affecting people's perceptions could not be generalized for the two species, and thus need to be addressed separately. We suggest future conservation projects and programs should prioritize remote settlements.
Project description:Conservation conflict over livestock depredation is one of the key drivers of large mammalian carnivore declines worldwide. Mitigating this conflict requires strategies informed by reliable knowledge of factors influencing livestock depredation. Wild prey and livestock abundance are critical factors influencing the extent of livestock depredation. We compared whether the extent of livestock predation by snow leopards Panthera uncia differed in relation to densities of wild prey, livestock, and snow leopards at two sites in Shey Phoksundo National Park, Nepal. We used camera trap-based spatially explicit capture-recapture models to estimate snow leopard density; double-observer surveys to estimate the density of their main prey species, the blue sheep Pseudois nayaur; and interview-based household surveys to estimate livestock population and number of livestock killed by snow leopards. The proportion of livestock lost per household was seven times higher in Upper Dolpa, the site which had higher snow leopard density (2.51 snow leopards per 100 km2) and higher livestock density (17.21 livestock per km2) compared to Lower Dolpa (1.21 snow leopards per 100 km2; 4.5 livestock per km2). The wild prey density was similar across the two sites (1.81 and 1.57 animals per km2 in Upper and Lower Dolpa, respectively). Our results suggest that livestock depredation level may largely be determined by the abundances of the snow leopards and livestock and predation levels on livestock can vary even at similar levels of wild prey density. In large parts of the snow leopard range, livestock production is indispensable to local livelihoods and livestock population is expected to increase to meet the demand of cashmere. Hence, we recommend that any efforts to increase livestock populations or conservation initiatives aimed at recovering or increasing snow leopard population be accompanied by better herding practices (e.g., predator-proof corrals) to protect livestock from snow leopard.
Project description:In this study, we investigated the impact of domestic and wild prey availability on snow leopard prey preference in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area of eastern Nepal-a region where small domestic livestock are absent and small wild ungulate prey are present. We took a comprehensive approach that combined fecal genetic sampling, macro- and microscopic analyses of snow leopard diets, and direct observation of blue sheep and livestock in the KCA. Out of the collected 88 putative snow leopard scat samples from 140 transects (290 km) in 27 (4 × 4 km<sup>2</sup>) sampling grid cells, 73 (83%) were confirmed to be from snow leopard. The genetic analysis accounted for 19 individual snow leopards (10 males and 9 females), with a mean population size estimate of 24 (95% CI: 19-29) and an average density of 3.9 snow leopards/100 km<sup>2</sup> within 609 km<sup>2</sup>. The total available prey biomass of blue sheep and yak was estimated at 355,236 kg (505 kg yak/km<sup>2</sup> and 78 kg blue sheep/km<sup>2</sup>). From the available prey biomass, we estimated snow leopards consumed 7% annually, which comprised wild prey (49%), domestic livestock (45%), and 6% unidentified items. The estimated 47,736 kg blue sheep biomass gives a snow leopard-to-blue sheep ratio of 1:59 on a weight basis. The high preference of snow leopard to domestic livestock appears to be influenced by a much smaller available biomass of wild prey than in other regions of Nepal (e.g., 78 kg/km<sup>2</sup> in the KCA compared with a range of 200-300 kg/km<sup>2</sup> in other regions of Nepal). Along with livestock insurance scheme improvement, there needs to be a focus on improved livestock guarding, predator-proof corrals as well as engaging and educating local people to be citizen scientists on the importance of snow leopard conservation, involving them in long-term monitoring programs and promotion of ecotourism.
Project description:Trophy hunting and mass tourism are the two major interventions designed to provide various socioeconomic and ecological benefits at the local and regional levels. However, these interventions have raised some serious concerns that need to be addressed. This study was conducted in Khunjerab National Park (KNP) with an aim to analyze comparatively the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of trophy hunting and mass tourism over the last three decades within the context of sustainability. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with key stakeholders and household interviews were conducted to collect data on trophy hunting and mass tourism, and on local attitudes towards these two interventions in and around KNP. The results revealed that 170 Ibex (Capra sibirica) and 12 Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) were hunted in the study area over the past three decades, and trophy hunting was not based on a sustainable harvest level. Trophy hunting on average generated USD 16,272 annual revenue, which was invested in community development. However, trophy hunting has greatly changed the attitudes of local residents towards wildlife: a positive attitude towards the wild ungulates and strongly negative attitude towards wild carnivores. In addition, trophy hunting has reduced the availability of ungulate prey species for Snow leopards (Panthera uncia), and consequently, Snow leopards have increased their predation on domestic livestock. This has, in turn, increased human-snow leopard conflict, as negative attitudes towards carnivores result in retaliatory killing of Snow leopards. Furthermore, according to official record data, the number of tourists to KNP has increased tremendously by 10,437.8%, from 1382 in 1999 to 145,633 in 2018. Mass tourism on average generated USD 33,904 annually and provided opportunities for locals to earn high incomes, but it caused damages to the environment and ecosystem in KNP through pollution generation and negative impacts on wildlife. Considering the limited benefits and significant problems created by trophy hunting and mass tourism, we suggest trophy hunting should be stopped and mass tourism should be shifted to ecotourism in and around KNP. Ecotourism could mitigate human-Snow leopard conflicts and help conserve the fragile ecosystem, while generating enough revenue incentives for the community to protect biodiversity and compensate for livestock depredation losses to Snow leopards. Our results may have implications for management of trophy hunting and mass tourism in other similar regions that deserve further investigation.
Project description:The endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia occurs in human use landscapes in the mountains of South and Central Asia. Conservationists generally agree that snow leopards must be conserved through a land-sharing approach, rather than land-sparing in the form of strictly protected areas. Effective conservation through land-sharing requires a good understanding of how snow leopards respond to human use of the landscape. Snow leopard density is expected to show spatial variation within a landscape because of variation in the intensity of human use and the quality of habitat. However, snow leopards have been difficult to enumerate and monitor. Variation in the density of snow leopards remains undocumented, and the impact of human use on their populations is poorly understood. We examined spatial variation in snow leopard density in Spiti Valley, an important snow leopard landscape in India, via spatially explicit capture-recapture analysis of camera trap data. We camera trapped an area encompassing a minimum convex polygon of 953 km2. Our best model estimated an overall density of 0.5 (95% CI: 0.31-0.82) mature snow leopards per 100 km2. Using AIC, our best model showed the density of snow leopards to depend on estimated wild prey density, movement about activity centres to depend on altitude, and the expected number of encounters at the activity centre to depend on topography. Models that also used livestock biomass as a density covariate ranked second, but the effect of livestock was weak. Our results highlight the importance of maintaining high density pockets of wild prey populations in multiple-use landscapes to enhance snow leopard conservation.
Project description:Abstract Conservation of large carnivores such as leopards requires large and interconnected habitats. Despite the wide geographic range of the leopard globally, only 17% of their habitat is within protected areas. Leopards are widely distributed in Nepal, but their population status and occupancy are poorly understood. We carried out the sign‐based leopard occupancy survey across the entire Chure range (~19,000 km2) to understand the habitat occupancy along with the covariates affecting their occupancy. Leopard signs were obtained from in 70 out of 223 grids surveyed, with a naïve leopard occupancy of 0.31. The model‐averaged leopard occupancy was estimated to be 0.5732 (SE 0.0082) with a replication‐level detection probability of 0.2554 (SE 0.1142). The top model shows the additive effect of wild boar, ruggedness, presence of livestock, and human population density positively affecting the leopard occupancy. The detection probability of leopard was higher outside the protected areas, less in the high NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) areas, and higher in the areas with livestock presence. The presence of wild boar was strong predictor of leopard occupancy followed by the presence of livestock, ruggedness, and human population density. Leopard occupancy was higher in west Chure (0.70 ± SE 0.047) having five protected areas compared with east Chure (0.46 ± SE 0.043) with no protected areas. Protected areas and prey species had positive influence on leopard occupancy in west Chure range. Similarly in the east Chure, the leopard occupancy increased with prey, NDVI, and terrain ruggedness. Enhanced law enforcement and mass awareness activities are necessary to reduce poaching/killing of wild ungulates and leopards in the Chure range to increase leopard occupancy. In addition, maintaining the sufficient natural prey base can contribute to minimize the livestock depredation and hence decrease the human–leopard conflict in the Chure range. The model‐averaged leopard occupancy in the Chure range (~19,000 km2) was 0.5732 (SE 0.0082) with a detection probability of 0.2554 (SE 0.1142). The top model included wild boar, ruggedness, presence of livestock, and human population density as covariates. Further, maintaining a sufficient natural prey base can contribute to minimize the livestock depredation and hence decrease the human–leopard conflict in the Chure range.
Project description:The snow leopard (<i>Panthera uncia</i>) found in central Asia is classified as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Every year, large number of livestock are killed by snow leopards in Nepal, leading to economic loss to local communities and making human-snow leopard conflict a major threat to snow leopard conservation. We conducted formal and informal stakeholder's interviews to gather information related to livestock depredation with the aim to map the attack sites by the snow leopard. These sites were further validated by district forest office staffs to assess sources of bias. Attack sites older than 3 years were removed from the survey. We found 109 attack sites and visited all the sites for geo location purpose (GPS points of all unique sites were taken). We maintained at least a 100 m distance between attack locations to ensure that each attack location was unique, which resulted in 86 unique locations. A total of 235 km<sup>2</sup> was used to define livestock depredation risk zone during this study. Using Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) modeling, we found that distance to livestock sheds, distance to paths, aspect, and distance to roads were major contributing factors to the snow leopard's attacks. We identified 13.64 km<sup>2</sup> as risk zone for livestock depredation from snow leopards in the study area. Furthermore, snow leopards preferred to attack livestock near livestock shelters, far from human paths and at moderate distance from motor roads. These identified attack zones should be managed both for snow leopard conservation and livestock protection in order to balance human livelihoods while protecting snow leopards and their habitats.
Project description:Human population growth and concomitant increases in demand for natural resources pose threats to many wildlife populations. The landscapes used by the endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncia) and their prey is increasingly subject to major changes in land use. We aimed to assess the influence of 1) key human activities, as indicated by the presence of mining and livestock herding, and 2) the presence of a key prey species, the blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), on probability of snow leopard site use across the landscape. In Gansu Province, China, we conducted sign surveys in 49 grid cells, each of 16 km2 in size, within a larger area of 3392 km2. We analysed the data using likelihood-based habitat occupancy models that explicitly account for imperfect detection and spatial auto-correlation between survey transect segments. The model-averaged estimate of snow leopard occupancy was high [0.75 (SE 0.10)], but only marginally higher than the naïve estimate (0.67). Snow leopard segment-level probability of detection, given occupancy on a 500 m spatial replicate, was also high [0.68 (SE 0.08)]. Prey presence was the main determinant of snow leopard site use, while human disturbances, in the form of mining and herding, had low predictive power. These findings suggest that snow leopards continue to use areas very close to such disturbances, as long as there is sufficient prey. Improved knowledge about the effect of human activity on large carnivores, which require large areas and intact prey populations, is urgently needed for conservation planning at the local and global levels. We highlight a number of methodological considerations that should guide the design of such research.