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Leopard’s diet con­sist mainly of dogs, study says

pub­lished 14 Sep­tem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 14 Sep­tem­ber 2014

A new study led by the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) reveals that in India’s human dom­i­nated agri­cul­tural land­scapes, where leop­ards prowl at night, it’s not live­stock that’s pri­mar­ily on the menu — it is man’s best friend.

Leopard and dog preyThe study — led by Vidya Athreya of WCS and the Nor­we­gian Insti­tute for Nature Research — is pub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber 11th issue of the jour­nal Oryx. A sum­mary of the paper writ­ten by the lead author can be found here. The researchers looked at scat sam­ples for leop­ards in India’s Ahmednagar’s dis­trict in Maha­rash­tra, found that 87 per­cent of their diet was made up of domes­tic ani­mals. Domes­tic dog dom­i­nated as the most com­mon prey item at 39 per­cent and domes­tic cats were sec­ond at 15 percent.

Sev­en­teen per­cent of the leopard’s diet con­sisted of assorted wild ani­mals includ­ing rodents, mon­keys, and mon­goose, and birds.

Live­stock, despite being more abun­dant, made up a rel­a­tively small por­tion of the leopard’s diet. Domes­tic goats, for exam­ple, are seven times more com­mon than dogs in this land­scape, yet only make up 11 per­cent of leopard’s prey. The author’s say this is because goats are less acces­si­ble and often brought into pens at night, while dogs are largely allowed to wan­der freely. Cows, sheep, and pigs were also eaten, but col­lec­tively made up less than 20 per­cent of leopard’s food. Most domes­tic cat­tle in this region are too large to be preyed on by leopards.

The author’s of the study say that the selec­tion of domes­tic dogs as prey means that the eco­nomic impact of pre­da­tion by leop­ards on valu­able live­stock is lower than expected. Thus, human-​leopard “con­flict” is more likely to be related to people’s fears of leop­ards for­ag­ing in the prox­im­ity of their houses and the sen­ti­men­tal value of dogs as pets.

Study co-​author Ullas Karanth, WCS Direc­tor for Science-​Asia, said: “Dur­ing the past two-​to-​three decades, legal reg­u­la­tion of leop­ard hunt­ing, increased con­ser­va­tion aware­ness, and the ris­ing num­bers of feral dogs as prey have all led to an increase in leop­ard num­bers out­side of nature reserves in agri­cul­tural land­scapes. While this is good news for con­ser­va­tion and a trib­ute to the social tol­er­ance of Indian peo­ple, it also poses major chal­lenges of man­ag­ing con­flict that occa­sion­ally breaks out. Only sound sci­ence can help us face this challenge.”

(Source: WCS press release, 11.09.2014)

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