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Title: Ecology and conservation of tiger panthera tigris and leopard panthera pardus in a subtropical lowland area, Nepal
Authors: Pokheral, Chiranjibi Prasad
Keywords: Tiger
Issue Date: 25-Feb-2018
Abstract: Ecology and conservation of tigers Panthera tigris and leopards Panthera pardus are studied in this thesis. The study was carried out between 2008 and 2011 in the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR), a subtropical lowland area in Nepal. Both these large carnivores are sympatric in many parts of their distributional ranges in Asia. Due to poaching, habitat loss and prey depletion, the tiger is already considered an endangered species globally, whereas leopard is nearly threatened. The present study addresses the ecology and conservation of these sympatric carnivores in one densely settled area situated within the Terai Arc Landscape of Nepal, where the tiger population recently declined by about sixty percent within a decade long period. Because carnivore ecology is largely governed by their prey, understanding the feeding ecology and behavioural flexibility of felids in prey selection is essential to address their conservation requirements. The prey selection by the two carnivores were quantified by scat analysis and the distance sampling line transect method in an area of about 250 km2. Results obtained from camera trapping were used to quantify the activity patterns as well as the status and spatial behaviour of the tigers and leopards. In addition, non- invasive genetic analysis of their scats were made to identify the minimum number of tigers and leopards in SWR. For the genetics part, the Karnali floodplain area (ca. 100km2) of Bardia National Park (BNP) located 150 km further east was also included. On average, 131 and 175 individual prey animals per km2 were estimated during the dry seasons of 2010 and 2011, respectively. Of these, 62-63% was wild prey and 38% were domestic animals. Individually, swamp deer was the most abundant wild prey, followed by chital, rhesus, langur, hog deer, wild boar, nilgai and muntjac in 2010. However, in 2011 chital was the most abundant among wild prey, followed by swamp deer, rhesus, hog deer, langur, wild boar, muntjac and nilgai. The analysis of 194 tiger and 42 leopard scats showed the occurrence of 12 and 14 prey species, respectively. Tiger and leopard diets were composed of a large quantity of wild ungulates (77% for tigers and 51% for leopards). The relative occurrences of prey items (wild ungulates) in the diet differed significantly between tiger and leopard (G=11.12; df=1, p<0.001). Medium sized prey species, such as chital were most common in the tiger diet, whereas small species showed up most frequently in the leopard diet, followed by medium sized species. Tigers consumed more large prey than the leopards did. The niche overlap values indicated a great dietary overlap of tiger than leopard. Camera trapping data showed that both tigers and leopards were photo-captured more frequently at night than during the day thus indicating that both have a nocturnal activity, however, tigers were found to have more diurnal activity than leopards. Variances in time use, temporally or spatially, have been recognized as behavioural characteristics that may motivate coexistence. In general, between 11AM- 5PM leopards were less active than tigers, probably to avoid the hottest period of the day, and because of a preference for the small sized prey that are most active during dusk and dawn. Concentration within certain areas and limited diurnal activity of leopards indicated the existence of temporal niche segregation between these cats. Camera trapping identified 11 individual tigers (six males and five females) and 9 leopards (five males and four females) in SWR. The genetic analysis identified only 5 tigers and 4 leopards from SWR, and 6 tigers from the Karnali floodplain of BNP. Population density of tigers in SWR was estimated at between 1.8 and 2.9/100 km2, while that for leopards was estimated at between 1.8 and 2.6/100 km2 during the study period. From 9 tigers in SWR. I calculated an average home range (HR) of 36.6 km2, with male HR (43.3 km2) being 1.45 times larger on average than those of females (29.9 km2). Among leopards (n=7) an average HR of 17.9 km2, was recorded, with males HRs (26.6 km2) 2.86 times larger than those of females (9.3 km2). The HRs of all male tigers overlapped each other at least partially and almost completely in some cases. HRs of male tigers overlapped more than those of female tigers, and male HRs overlapped with more than one individual female. Leopard HRs tended to overlap less than those of tigers, with values ranging up to 7 km2 for females to 2-24 km2 for males (overall mean 8.83 km2). As displayed by the tiger, male leopard HRs tended to overlap with those of several females. The data suggested that even though there was 12 to 18 % median overlap between tiger and leopard HRs, there was a clear spatial separation between them. Leopards were more restricted to the periphery of the reserve, while tigers occupied the core or mostly undisturbed areas of the reserve. This research provides the first set of data on tigers, leopards and their prey in SWR, Nepal during the dry season. However, immediate needs for further research on wildlife disease, especially focused on large carnivores, and human-disturbance in the reserve including prey availability in the eastern selection of the reserve area, an issue which was not included in this study. Furthermore research is needed on predator-prey relation with the inclusion of trans-boundary wildlife corridor utilization and the link between the smaller protected areas in the trans-border level.
Description: Doctorate research in Evolution and Environmental Biology, University of Ferrara, 2011.
Appears in Collections:500 Natural sciences and mathematics

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