Change in snow leopard predation on livestock after revival of wild prey in the Trans-Himalaya
8 November 2019Bagchi, Sumanta; Sharma, Rishi; Bhatnagar, Yash
Human-wildlife conflict arising from livestock-losses to large carnivores is an important challenge faced by conservation. Theory of prey-predator interactions suggests that revival of wild prey populations can reduce predator’s dependence on livestock in multiple-use landscapes. We explore whether 10-years of conservation efforts to revive wild prey could reduce snow leopard’s (Panthera uncia) consumption of livestock in the coupled human-and-natural Trans-Himalayan ecosystem of northern India. Starting in 2001, concerted conservation efforts at one site (intervention) attempted recovery of wild-prey populations by creating livestock-free reserves, accompanied with other incentives (e.g., insurance, vigilant herding). Another site, 50 km away, was monitored as status-quo without any interventions. Prey remains in snow leopard scats were examined periodically at 5-yr intervals between 2002 and 2012 to determine any temporal shift in diet at both sites to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation interventions. Consumption of livestock increased at the status-quo site, while it decreased at the intervention-site. At the intervention-site, livestock-consumption reduced during 2002-07 (by 17%, P=0.06); this effect was sustained during the next 5-yr interval, and it was accompanied by a persistent increase in wild prey populations. Here we also noted increased predator populations, likely due to immigration into the study area. Despite the increase in the predator population, there was no increase in livestock-consumption. In contrast, under status-quo, dependence on livestock increased during both 5-yr intervals (by 7%, P=0.08, and by 16%, P=0.01, respectively). These contrasts between the trajectories of the two sites suggest that livestock-loss can potentially be reduced through the revival of wild prey. Further, accommodating counter-factual scenarios may be an important step to infer whether conservation efforts achieve their targets, or not.