Food habits of tigers Panthera tigris and population attributes of prey species (population structure, density and biomass) were studied in the tropical dry deciduous forest of Pench National Park, Central India, from November 1998 to April 1999. Scat analysis and line transect method were used to estimate tiger food habits and density of major prey species, respectively. The 61.1 km2 intensive study area was found to have very high ungulate density (90.3 animals km−2) with chital Axis axis being the most common species (80.7 animals km−2), followed by sambar Cervus unicolor (6.1 animals km−2). Common langur Presbytis entellus was the most abundant (77.2 animals km−2) primate species. When the density figures were multiplied by the average weight of each prey species, a high biomass density of 6013.25 kg km−2 was obtained for the intensive study area. Chital (47.3%) along with sambar (14.5%) and wild pig Sus scrofa (10.9%) constituted the major part of the tiger's diet. If there is food choice, tigers seem to kill medium- and large-sized species more often. Wild pig and sambar were consumed more than their availability, whereas chital were taken in proportion to their availability. Gaur Bos gaurus and nilgai Bosephalus tragocamelus were not represented in the tiger's diet. Common langur was consumed in lesser proportion by tigers than expected by estimates of its density. The average weight of animals consumed by tigers in the intensive study area was 82.1 kg. The analyses revealed that Pench harbours very high prey density and tigers are mostly dependent on the wild ungulates rather than on domestic livestock as is the case in many other areas in the Indian subcontinent. These two factors thus make Pench National Park a potential area for long-term conservation of tigers.
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