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Leopard (Panthera pardus) density and diet in a forest corridor of Terai: implications for conservation and conflict management

Abstract


Context: Increasing forest fragmentation and degradation has forced wildlife to live in close proximity to humans, increasing the chances of human–wildlife conflict. Leopard (Panthera pardus) typifies the problem faced by large carnivores. It is a threatened species with a wide distribution, with a large part of their range outside protected areas, leaving them vulnerable to human–leopard conflict. Understanding their status and diet in such non-protected forests is necessary for their long-term conservation.

Aims: The present study aimed to estimate leopard density and assess their diet in a non-protected forest.

Methods: A camera-trapping survey was carried out in the Kamdi forest corridor outside of protected areas, covering 791.29 km2 in the western part of Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) in Nepal. Leopard density was estimated based on the photographs obtained in camera traps, using Bayesian Explicit Capture–recapture (B-SECR) models. Scats of leopards were opportunistically collected (n = 60) and their diet analysed through micro-histological characters of hair remains. The frequency of occurrence and relative biomass of different prey species consumed by leopard was calculated.

Key results: Leopard density was estimated to be 1.50 (± 0.49 s.e.) 100 km−2 in the survey area. Similarly, we identified 13 prey species in the leopard scats. Wild prey contributed the majority (67.8%) of leopard diet, including 23.2% of wild boar (Sus scrofa) and 18.3% of spotted deer (Axis axis). Nearly one-third of leopard diet consists of domestic livestock (cattle, goat, sheep) and dog.

Conclusions: Leopard density was found to be relatively low in the forest corridor compared with protected areas. Nearly one-third of leopard diet from domestic livestock and dogs suggests that human–leopard conflict could be problematic in the survey area.

Implications: Increasing prey density in the forest corridor and improving livestock husbandry in the periphery will contribute to increase leopard density, reduce the human–leopard conflict and enhance the functionality of the corridor.