Tiger Conservation May Drastically Change Jaguar Habits

First Posted: Dec 10, 2014 08:34 AM EST

Saving one species may change another. Scientists have discovered that leopards have altered their activity patterns in response to tiger and humans in different ways.

"This study shows the complexity of coupled human and natural systems," said Jianguo Liu, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It also demonstrates the challenge of conserving multiple endangered species simultaneously."

Most regions where leopards and tigers co-exist are dominated by humans. Therefore, understanding the interactions between all three is key to learning the ripple effects of human activities, such as conservation efforts.

In order to learn a bit more about these interactions, the researchers examined these big cats in and around Nepal's Chitwan National Park. They used motion-detecting camera traps for leopards, tigers and their prey, and the people who walk the roads and trails of Chitwan. By analyzing the thousands of camera trap images, the researchers were able to study interactions. Then, the scientists used computational models to fill in data gaps and statistically eliminate the location and timing of leopard-tiger-human activity.

"The computational component of this research is essential since it allows us to make strong inferences about leopard behavior in Chitwan based on a small sample," said Micah Jasny, co-author of the new study.

The findings reveal a bit more about tiger conservation. Leopards are increasingly likely to be pushed into areas where people live as tigers rebound; this jostling of wildlife occupancy may then open the door to more conflicts between people and leopards that could include leopard attacks and retaliatory killings of leopards.

"We want to see increased tiger numbers-that's a great outcome from a conservation perspective," said Neil Carter, one of the researchers. "But we also need to anticipate reverberations throughout other parts of the coupled human and natural systems in which tigers are moving into, such as the ways leopards respond to their new cohabitants, and in turn how humans respond to their new cohabitants."

The findings are published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

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