Scientists from Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), Wildlife Conservation Society – India, University of Florida, Wildlife Conservation Society – USA, and Duke University are exploring what enables and hinders coexistence between people and carnivores.
In an study titled “Examining human-carnivore interactions using a socio-ecological framework: sympatric wild canids in India as a case study”, published in journal Royal Society Open Science, conservation ecologists highlight socio-ecological issues that drive distribution of canids, and the conflicts that arise when sharing a habitat with humans outside protected areas.
The study is conducted in the Kanha–Pench landscape of Central India where millions of people live adjacent to the forest and depend on it for resources like wood, non-timber forest products, as well as grazing lands for domestic livestock. These landscapes harbour a diversity of carnivores. “Few studies have been undertaken in India that have evaluated the conservation requirements of carnivores, especially canids, in habitats dominated by human activities,” says Mahi Puri, the principal investigator of this research and doctoral candidate at University of Florida.
In this case study, the distribution of carnivores is estimated by splitting approximately 10,000 sq. km of land area into grid cells to sample the populations of four canids: gray wolves, dholes, jackals, and foxes, as well as striped hyenas. A high presence of carnivores is found in the landscape ranging from 12% for dholes to 86% for jackals, and is influenced by the proportion of forests, open scrublands, and ruggedness of the terrain. Over a period of four months, three teams surveyed forest trails and roads for samples of scat and tracks from the five species of interest. 675 residents were also interviewed in the same space. The surveys also look at signs of prey, livestock and free-ranging dogs in the same landscape.
The researchers find that the likelihood of a carnivore predating on livestock depends upon the amount of land cover available to them and the number of livestock or poultry held in nearby human settlements. Additionally, carnivores themselves face competition from widespread populations of free-ranging dogs that inhabit the same areas and present a risk of disease. Mahi Puri says, “Our study highlights the importance of preventing the diversion of multi-use forests towards infrastructural development, improving strategies to reduce livestock loss due to canids, increasing the efficiency of state-mandated compensatory schemes, and active control and management of India’s free-ranging dog population.”
Upon how these findings will impact current conservation efforts, Dr Krithi K Karanth, chief conservation scientist at CWS, says, “Multi-use landscapes serve as important subsidiary habitats to India’s existing protected area network, supporting populations of several carnivore species. Our ongoing community-based projects are focused on enhancing their conservation potential by working alongside people living with wildlife.”
The study is authored by Arjun Srivathsa, Mahi Puri, Dr Krithi K Karanth, Imran Patel, and Dr N Samba Kumar.