New York: In India's human-dominated agricultural landscapes where leopards prowl at night, it is not livestock that is on the menu but the man's best friend - dog.
According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), 87 percent of the leopards' diet is made up of domestic animals.
Domestic dog dominated as the most common prey item at 39 percent and domestic cats were second at 15 percent, said the study that looked at scat samples for leopards in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra.
“During the past two-to-three decades, legal regulation of leopard hunting, increased conservation awareness and the rising numbers of feral dogs as prey have all led to an increase in leopard numbers outside of nature reserves in agricultural landscapes,” said study co-author Ullas Karanth, WCS director for science (Asia).
While this is good news for conservation and a tribute to the social tolerance of Indian people, “it also poses major challenges of managing conflict that occasionally breaks out”, he added.
The findings showed that 17 percent of the leopard's diet consisted of assorted wild animals including rodents, monkeys, and mongoose and birds.
Livestock, despite being more abundant, made up a relatively small portion of the leopard's diet.
Domestic goats, for example, are seven times more common than dogs in this landscape, yet only make up 11 percent of leopard's prey, the findings revealed.
“This is because goats are less accessible and often brought into pens at night, while dogs are largely allowed to wander freely,” the authors wrote.
Cows, sheep and pigs were also eaten but collectively made up less than 20 percent of leopard's food.
“The selection of domestic dogs as prey means that the economic impact of predation by leopards on valuable livestock is lower than expected,” Karanth added.
Thus, human-leopard “conflict” is more likely to be related to people's fears of leopards foraging in the proximity of their houses and the sentimental value of dogs as pets, researchers concluded.