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Distribution and habitat-use of Dhole Cuon alpinus (Mammalia: Carnivora: Canidae) in Parsa National Park, Nepal

Abstract

Dhole Cuon alpinus is one of the top predators in Asian forests but is one of the least studied species of carnivores. We surveyed an area of 499 km2 of Parsa National Park (PNP) during the winter (November–January) of 2016–17 using camera-traps to determine the spatial distribution and habitat-use patterns of Dhole.  We overlaid 2 x 2 km2 grid cells (n= 126) across the study area and set up a pair of motion sensor cameras in each grid cells for 21 days.  We modeled the habitat-use by Dholes as a function of sampling covariates and fine-scale habitat covariates using single species single season occupancy models. We estimated the parameters in two steps. First, we defined a global model for probability of habitat-use and modeled detection probability (p) either as an intercept-only model or as a function of covariates.  Second, we modeled the habitat-use probability (Ψ) incorporating the top-ranked model for probability of detection (p) in the first step. A total effort of 2,520 camera-trap-nights resulted in 63 independent detections of dholes at 27 locations in PNP. The naïve occupancy estimate of Dholes in PNP was 0.21. The estimated probability of habitat-use (Ψ) and detection (p) were 0.47±0.27 and 0.24±0.05, respectively. Grassland availability (βG= 8.00±3.09), terrain ruggedness index (βTR= 0.73±0.34), and Sambar (prey) presence (βS= 1.06±0.51) strong positive association, whereas, stream/exposed surfaces (βSES= -0.45±0.43) had negative association with the habitat use by Dholes. Similarly, detection probability was positively associated with presence of Sambar (βS= 2.44±1.02) but negatively associated with streams/exposed surfaces (βSES= -0.99±0.32) and terrain ruggedness (βTRI= -0.09±0.23). Our study provides quantitative information on the ecology of Dholes with potential applications for improving their conservation efforts in Nepal.