- Journal Article2019Sampling bias in snow leopard population estimation studiesPopulation Ecology 10.1002/1438-390X.1027Download
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Accurate assessments of the status of threatened species and their conservation planning require reliable estimation of their global populations and robust monitoring of local population trends. We assessed the adequacy and suitability of studies in reliably estimating the global snow leopard (Panthera uncia) population. We compiled a dataset of all the peer-reviewed published literature on snow leopard population estimation. Metadata analysis showed estimates of snow leopard density to be a negative exponential function of area, suggesting that study areas have generally been too small for accurate density estimation, and sampling has often been biased towards the best habitats. Published studies are restricted to six of the 12 range countries, covering only 0.3–0.9% of the presumed global range of the species. Re-sampling of camera trap data from a relatively large study site (c.1684 km2) showed that small-sized study areas together with a bias towards good quality habitats in existing studies may have overestimated densities by up to five times. We conclude that current information is biased and inadequate for generating a reliable global population estimate of snow leopards. To develop a rigorous and useful baseline and to avoid pitfalls, there is an urgent need for (a) refinement of sampling and analytical protocols for population estimation of snow leopards (b) agreement and coordinated use of standardized sampling protocols amongst researchers and governments across the range, and (c) sampling larger and under-represented areas of the snow leopard's global range.
- Journal Article2019Distribution and activity pattern of stone marten Martes foina in relation to prey and predatorsMammalian Biology; Volume 96, May 2019, Pages 110-117Download
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Small carnivores are expected to optimize their activity to maximize prey capture and minimize their encounter with predators. We assessed the activity pattern of the stone marten
Martes foinain relation to its potential prey, the Himalayan woolly hare Lepus oiostolus and the Royle’s pika Ochotona roylei, and its predators, the red fox Vulpes vulpesand the free-ranging dog Canis familiaris. Using three years of camera trapping data from the Indian Trans-Himalaya, we estimated individual and pair-wise spatio-temporal niche width and overlap, respectively, using Levins’ asymmetric index. Stone martens showed limited space use (spatial niche width 0.16) and nocturnal activity (temporal niche width 0.35). They had high temporal (0.75) and low spatial overlap (0.05) with hares; while they had relatively low temporal (0.33) but higher spatial overlap (0.29) with pikas. Red foxes showed relatively high temporal (1.21) and spatial (0.75) overlap with martens, while free-ranging dogs showed low temporal (0.23) and spatial (0.03) overlap with martens. Although restricted space and time use by pikas might help martens track pikas even with relatively low spatio-temporal overlap, martens may be benefiting from higher temporal overlap with hares. While martens seem to be co-existing with foxes, their nocturnal activity might be driven by a trade-off between consuming prey and avoidance of diurnal predators like dogs.
- Journal Article2018Local community neutralizes traditional wolf traps and builds a stupaOryx
- Journal Article2017Assessing changes in distribution of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia and its wild prey over 2 decades in the Indian Himalaya through interviewbased occupancy surveysdoi:10.1017/S0030605317001107Download
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Understanding species distributions, patterns of change and threats can form the basis for assessing the conservation status of elusive species that are difficult to survey. The snow leopard Panthera uncia is the top predator of the Central and South Asian mountains. Knowledge of the distribution and status of this elusive felid and its wild prey is limited. Using recall-based key-informant interviews we estimated site use by snow leopards and their primary wild prey, blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica, across two time periods (past: –; recent: –) in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. We also conducted a threat assessment for the recent period. Probability of site use was similar across the two time periods for snow leopards, blue sheep and ibex, whereas for wild prey (blue sheep and ibex combined) overall there was an % contraction. Although our surveys were conducted in areas within the presumed distribution range of the snow leopard, we found snow leopards were using only % of the area (, km). Blue sheep and ibex had distinct distribution ranges. Snow leopards and their wild prey were not restricted to protected areas, which encompassed only % of their distribution within the study area. Migratory livestock grazing was pervasive across ibex distribution range and was the most widespread and serious conservation threat. Depredation by free-ranging dogs, and illegal hunting and wildlife trade were the other severe threats. Our results underscore the importance of community-based, landscape- scale conservation approaches and caution against reliance on geophysical and opinion-based distribution maps that have been used to estimate national and global snow leopard ranges.
- Journal Article2017Commensal in conflict: Livestock depredation patterns by free-ranging domestic dogs in the Upper Spiti Landscape, Himachal Pradesh, IndiaAmbio: doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0858-6Download
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In human-populated landscapes worldwide, domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are the most abundant terrestrial carnivore. Although dogs have been used for the protection of livestock from wild carnivores, they have also been implicated as predators of livestock. We used a combination of methods (field surveys, interview surveys, and data from secondary sources) to examine the patterns and factors driving livestock depredation by free-ranging dogs, as well as economic losses to local communities in a Trans-Himalayan agro-pastoralist landscape in India. Our results show that livestock abundance was a better predictor of depredation in the villages than local dog abundance. Dogs mainly killed small-bodied livestock and sheep were the most selected prey. Dogs were responsible for the majority of livestock losses, with losses being comparable to that by snow leopards. This high level of conflict may disrupt community benefits from conservation programs and potentially undermine the conservation efforts in the region through a range of cascading effects.
- Journal Article2017Impact of wild prey availability on livestock predation by snow leopards.Royal Society Open Science, 4(6), 170026.
An increasing proportion of the world's poor is rearing livestock today, and the global livestock population is growing. Livestock predation by large carnivores and their retaliatory killing is becoming an economic and conservation concern. A common recommendation for carnivore conservation and for reducing predation on livestock is to increase wild prey populations based on the assumption that the carnivores will consume this alternative food. Livestock predation, however, could either reduce or intensify with increases in wild prey depending on prey choice and trends in carnivore abundance. We show that the extent of livestock predation by the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia intensifies with increases in the density of wild ungulate prey, and subsequently stabilizes. We found that snow leopard density, estimated at seven sites, was a positive linear function of the density of wild ungulates—the preferred prey—and showed no discernible relationship with livestock density. We also found that modelled livestock predation increased with livestock density. Our results suggest that snow leopard conservation would benefit from an increase in wild ungulates, but that would intensify the problem of livestock predation for pastoralists. The potential benefits of increased wild prey abundance in reducing livestock predation can be overwhelmed by a resultant increase in snow leopard populations. Snow leopard conservation efforts aimed at facilitating increases in wild prey must be accompanied by greater assistance for better livestock protection and offsetting the economic damage caused by carnivores.
- Journal Article2017The value of ecosystem services in the high altitude Spiti Valley, Indian Trans-Himalayahttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.10.018Download
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The high mountain ranges of South and Central Asia are increasingly being exposed to large-scale development projects. These areas are home to traditional pastoralist communities and internationally important biodiversity including the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia. Development projects rely on economic cost-benefit analysis, but the ecosystem services in the high Himalayas are poorly understood and are rarely accounted for. As a first step to fill this gap, we identified the main ecosystem services used by local people in the Trans-Himalayan Spiti Valley (7591 km2), a region important for conservation of snow leopards and high mountain biodiversity, and undertook an economic valuation. Stakeholders identified a range of services, though these were dominated by provisioning services identified by 90% of respondents. Only 5.4% of the respondents recognised regulatory services and 4.8% recognised cultural services. The mean economic value of provisioning services was estimated at US$ 3622 ± 149 HH−1 yr−1, which was 3.8 times higher than the average annual household income. Our results underscore the need to account for ecosystem services in the cost-benefit analyses of large-scale development projects in addition to assessments of their environmental and social impact.
- Journal Article2017Snow Leopard, Ecology and Conservation Issues in IndiaResonance, Indian Academy of Sciences, DOI 10.1007/s12045-017-0511-0Download
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Snow leopard, an elusive mammal species of the cat family, is the top-predator of the Central and South Asian, highaltitude ecosystem. Snow leopards occur at low densities across the Central Asian mountains and the Indian Himalayan region. Owing to their secretive nature and inaccessible habitat, little is known about its ecology and distribution. Due to its endangered status and high aesthetic value, the snow leopard is considered as an ‘umbrella species’ for wildlife conservation in the Indian Himalayas. This article summarizes the current knowledge on snow leopard ecology and conservation issues in the Indian context.
- Journal Article2016Forage and security trade-offs by markhor Capra falconeri mothers.110 (8): 1559-1563.
- Journal Article2016Irrigation demands aggravate fishing threats to river dolphins in NepalBiological Conservation, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.026Download
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Riverine species are adapted to natural habitat changes caused by seasonal flood-pulses. However, abrupt river channel changes following flooding events intersect with social systems of land and water management (e.g. agriculture, fisheries) and in turn generate significant consequences for conservation of endangered aquatic species. We investigated tradeoffs between changing river habitat availability and exposure to fishing intensity for a small population of Ganges River dolphins Platanista gangetica gangeticain the Karnali basin of Nepal. A major natural flooding event in the Karnali basin in 2010 caused the river channel to shift from the Geruwa (flows through a protected area where fishing is restricted) to the Karnali channel (high fishing activity, agriculture-dominated), where dolphins moved in response. Based on our survey data (2009–2015) and long-term hydrological trends in the basin, we found that irrigation diversions since 2012 had aggravated fishing impacts on dolphins, suggesting that their new habitat had become an ‘ecological trap’. Regression models showed that at low river depths, fishing intensity negatively affected dolphin abundance, but at higher depths no effect of fishing was observed. Two records of dolphin bycatch in gillnets confirmed this, as both events corresponded with periods of sudden increase in water abstraction for irrigation. Overall, dolphin distribution shifted downstream and the population declined from 11 in 2012 to 6 in 2015. Effective protection of this river dolphin population from extinction will require the Government of Nepal to prioritize ecologically adequate river flow regimes for implementing efficient irrigation schemes and adaptive fisheries regulations in the Karnali basin.
- Journal Article2016Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountainsEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research, 62: 131-136, DOI 10.1007/s10344-015-0967-8Download
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Habitat modification through rural and urban expansions negatively impacts most wildlife species. However, anthropogenic food sources in habitations can benefit certain species. The red fox Vulpes vulpes can exploit anthropogenic food, but human subsidies sometimes also sustain populations of its potential competitor, the free-ranging dog Canis familiaris. As human habitations expand, populations of free-ranging dog are increasing in many areas, with unknown effects on wild commensal species such as the red fox. We examined occurrence and diet of red fox along a gradient of village size in a rural mountainous landscape of the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Diet analyses suggest substantial use of anthropogenic food (livestock and garbage) by red fox. Contribution of livestock and garbage to diet of red fox declined and increased, respectively, with increasing village size. Red fox occurrence did not show a clear relationship with village size. Red fox occurrence showed weak positive relationships with density of free-ranging dog and garbage availability, respectively, while density of free-ranging dog showed strong positive relationships with village size and garbage availability, respectively. We highlight the potential conservation concern arising from the strong positive association between density of free-ranging dog and village size.
- Journal Article2016The Relationship Between Religion and Attitudes Toward Large Carnivores in Northern India?Human Dimension of Wildlife, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10871209.2016.1220034Download
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Evidence suggests that religion is an important driver of peoples’ attitudes toward nature, but the link between religion and carnivore conservation is poorly understood. We examined peoples’ attitudes in Buddhist (n = 83) and Muslim communities (n = 111) toward snow leopards (Panthera uncia) and wolves (Canis lupus) in Ladakh, India. We found that the effect of religion on attitudes was statistically nonsignificant, and was tempered by gender, education, and aware- ness of wildlife laws. Even though religion by itself was not an indication of an individual’s attitude toward large carnivores, the extent to which he/she practiced it (i.e., religiosity) had a positive correlation with pro-carnivore attitudes in the case of Buddhist but not Muslim communities. Our findings indicate that it may be useful to integrate locally relevant religious philosophies into conservation practice. However, the emphasis of conservation messaging should vary, stressing environmental stewardship in the case of Islam, and human–wildlife interdependence in the case of Buddhism.
- Journal Article2015Does livestock benefit or harm snow leopards?Biological Conservation, 190: 8-13
Large carnivores commonly prey on livestock when their ranges overlap. Pastoralism is the dominant land use type across the distributional range of the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia. Snow leopards are often killed in retaliation against livestock depredation. Whether livestock, by forming an alternative prey, could potentially benefit snow leopards, or, whether livestock use of an area is detrimental to snow leopards is poorly understood. We examined snow leopard habitat use in a multiple use landscape that was comprised of sites varying in livestock abundance, wild prey abundance and human population size. We photographically sampled ten sites (average size 70 sq. km) using ten camera traps in each site, deployed for a period of 60 days. Snow leopard habitat use was computed as a Relative Use Index based on the total independent photographic captures and the number of snow leopard individuals captured at each site. We quantified livestock abundance, wild prey abundance, human population size and terrain ruggedness in each of the sites. Key variables influencing snow leopard habitat use were identified using Information Theory based model selection approach. Snow leopard habitat use was best explained by wild prey density, and showed a positive linear relationship with the abundance of wild ungulates. We found a hump-shaped relationship between snow leopard habitat use and livestock stocking density, with an initial increase in habitat use followed by a decline beyond a threshold of livestock density. Our results suggest that in the absence of direct persecution of snow leopards, livestock grazing and snow leopard habitat use are potentially compatible up to a certain threshold of livestock density, beyond which habitat use declines, presumably due to depressed wild ungulate abundance and associated anthropogenic disturbance.
- Journal Article2015Status assessment of snow leopard and other large mammals in the Kyrgyz Alay using community knowledge corrected for imperfect detectionOryx
- Journal Article2015Status of the mountain ungulate prey of the Endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia in the Tost Local Protected Area, South Gobi, MongoliaOryx, doi:10.1017/S0030605314001203
- Journal Article2014A penny saved is a penny earned: lean season foraging strategy of an alpine ungulateAnimal Behaviour 92, 93-100
- Journal Article2014Vigorous dynamics underlie a stable population of the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia in Tost Mountains, South Gobi, Mongolia 12Plos ONE 9(7): e101319. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101319
Population monitoring programmes and estimation of vital rates are key to understanding the mechanisms of population growth, decline or stability, and are important for effective conservation action. We report, for the first time, the population trends and vital rates of the endangered snow leopard based on camera trapping over four years in the Tost Mountains, South Gobi, Mongolia. We used robust design multi-season mark-recapture analysis to estimate the trends in abundance, sex ratio, survival probability and the probability of temporary emigration and immigration for adult and young snow leopards. The snow leopard population remained constant over most of the study period, with no apparent growth (l = 1.08+20.25). Comparison of model results with the ‘‘known population’’ of radio-collared snow leopards suggested high accuracy in our estimates. Although seemingly stable, vigorous underlying dynamics were evident in this population, with the adult sex ratio shifting from being male-biased to female-biased (1.67 to 0.38 males per female) during the study. Adult survival probability was 0.82 (SE+20.08) and that of young was 0.83 (SE+20.15) and 0.77 (SE +20.2) respectively, before and after the age of 2 years. Young snow leopards showed a high probability of temporary emigration and immigration (0.6, SE +20.19 and 0.68, SE +20.32 before and after the age of 2 years) though not the adults (0.02 SE+20.07). While the current female-bias in the population and the number of cubs born each year seemingly render the study population safe, the vigorous dynamics suggests that the situation can change quickly. The reduction in the proportion of male snow leopards may be indicative of continuing anthropogenic pressures. Our work reiterates the importance of monitoring both the abundance and population dynamics of species for effective conservation.
- Journal Article2014Multi-scale factors influencing human attitudes towards snow leopards and wolves.Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12320
- Journal Article2014Tilting at wildlife: reconsidering human–wildlife conflict2014 Fauna & Flora International, Oryx, 1–4, doi:10.1017/S0030605314000799Download
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Conflicts between people over wildlife are widespread and damaging to both the wildlife and people involved. Such issues are often termed human–wildlife conflicts. We argue that this term is misleading and may exacerbate the problems and hinder resolution. A review of 100 recent articles on human–wildlife conflicts reveals that 97 were between conservation and other human activities, particularly those associated with livelihoods. We suggest that we should distinguish between human–wildlife impacts and human–human conflicts and be explicit about the different interests involved in conflict. Those representing conservation interests should not only seek technical solutions to deal with the impacts but also consider their role and objectives, and focus on strategies likely to deliver long-term solutions for the benefit of biodiversity and the people involved.
- Journal Article2014Vigorous Dynamics Underlie a Stable Population of the Endangered Snow Leopard Panthera uncia in Tost Mountains, South Gobi, MongoliaPLoS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101319