Food habits of tigers Panthera tigris in terms of prey abundance were studied in the semi-arid deciduous forests of Ranthambhore National Park, western India, between November 2000 and April 2001. Wild prey availability was assessed by line transects (n=8) and prey selection by the tigers was determined from analysis of scats (n=109). Compared to some other parts of the country, prey abundance was found to be high at 96.65 animals km−2. Chital Axis axis was the most abundant wild prey in the study area, followed by common langur Presbytis entellus, sambar Cervus unicolor, nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus, wild pig Sus scrofa and chinkara Gazella bennetti. Chital (c. 31%) and sambar (c. 47%) constituted the bulk of the tigers' diet and were preferred prey. Nilgai and chinkara contributed minimally to the tigers' diet (c. 5–7% and <1%, respectively) and were used less than their availability. Domestic livestock made up 10–12% of the tigers' diet. The average weight of an animal consumed was between 107 and 114 kg reflecting a preference for large prey. The analysis reveals that parts of Ranthambhore have high prey abundance, thus making it important for long-term tiger conservation. Despite the high prey abundance, tigers were still considerably dependent on domestic livestock, posing challenges for the park management to resolve potential areas of conflict.
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