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Ecological preferences of large carnivores in remote, high-altitude protected areas: insights from Buxa Tiger Reserve, India

  • Mriganka Shekhar Sarkar (a1), Harika Segu (a1), J. V. Bhaskar (a2), Rajendra Jakher (a2), Swati Mohapatra (a1), K. Shalini (a1), S. Shivaji (a1) and P. Anuradha Reddy (a1)...

Difficult terrain and inclement weather limit our knowledge of large predators, such as the tiger Panthera tigris, in the Himalayas. A lack of empirical data on large carnivores can lead to mismanagement of protected areas and population declines. We used non-invasive genetic and remote sensing data to inform the management of such high-altitude protected areas. We used the tiger as a focal species to investigate prey preference and habitat suitability in India's Buxa Tiger Reserve, which encompasses several eco-geographical regions in the Himalayan and subtropical zones. During 2010–2013, 909 faecal samples were collected, of which 372 were confirmed, using genetic analysis, to be of tiger origin. Fourteen prey species/groups were identified in 240 tiger faecal samples, largely dominated by goats Capra spp. (26.59%), rhesus macaques Macaca mulatta (22.22%) and cattle Bos spp. (20.63%). Considering only the wild prey species for which survey data are available, however, and frequency of occurrence of prey in faecal samples, hog deer Axis porcinus, sambar deer Rusa unicolor and spotted deer Axis axis were the most preferred prey species. Using faecal sample locations to examine the relationship between tiger presence and environmental features indicated that the niche for tigers is narrower than the available protected area: c. 62% of core protected area is suitable, of which only 17% is highly suitable for tigers. Tigers prefer dense vegetation, open forests, riverine vegetation and areas close to water sources. Faecal sample-based studies have the potential to generate data that can help us understand the ecology of elusive carnivore species inhabiting high-altitude landscapes.

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Also at: Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India

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