leopard
Leopards will move out of traditional territories to avoid tigers, making it important that conservation programmes study the impact on other species as wellWiki Commons

As tiger population grows, leopards are increasingly likely to be pushed into areas where people live, leading to more conflicts between man and leopards.

This is what a study conducted in Nepal's Chitwan National Park found.

Leopards in the area avoid tigers and move out to new locations to live and hunt. Since the more socially dominant tigers prefer areas less disturbed by people, leopards are displaced closer to humans.

This is the first of its kind study performed to find out how leopards respond to the presence of both tigers and humans simultaneously, according to the Michigan State University.

Using camera traps the team collected data on movement by tigers, leopards and people in the region. Computational models were used to fill in missing data gaps.

A scientific paper based on the study, led by Neil Carter, postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, which has been co-authoured by Micah Jasny of Duke University, Bhim Gurung of the Nepal Tiger Trust in Chitwan, and Jianguo "Jack" Liu of Michigan State University.

The study highlights the need for science to understand the complex feedback mechanisms at work in order to conserve multiple species simultaneously.

The study has important implications in light of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which is committed to doubling the worldwide tiger population by 2022.

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

When leopards turn residents

Recent studies have shown how leopards adapt quickly to change of prey and move out of traditional hunting grounds. Clashes from increasing conflicts between humans and leopards have resulted in lynching of the animal in many instances.

Another international study conducted in India recently showed that leopards in human areas are not always 'stray' or 'conflict' animals but residents.

Their findings were published in the journal PLoS One in the article 'Adaptable Neighbours: Movement patterns of GPS-collared leopards in human-dominated landscapes in India'.

The study that saw the capture of leopards which were radio collared and released in different locations proved the futility of translocation as a management strategy as the leopards often moved many kilometers away from the site of release.

It showed how the animals applied tactics to avoid encountering people, despite dependence on their resources and managed to survive and flourish, using food sources (domestic animals) associated with humans.

Despite living in close proximity to humans and being dependent on their resources, none of the leopards were involved in human deaths during capture or following release.

Policy makers have to rethink India's leopard-management strategies, concluded the team.