Washington: A new study has revealed that leopards do change their activity patterns in response to tigers and humans, but in different ways.
The study at the Michigan State University is the first of its kind to look at how leopards respond to the presence of both tigers and humans simultaneously and its findings suggest that leopards in and around Nepal's Chitwan National Park avoid tigers by seeking out different locations to live and hunt.
Since tigers, the socially dominant feline, prefer areas less disturbed by people, leopards are displaced closer to humans and though they may share some of the same spaces, leopards avoid people on foot and vehicles by shifting their activity to the night.
Researcher Jianguo "Jack" Liu said that this study shows the complexity of coupled human and natural systems and it also demonstrates the challenge of conserving multiple endangered species simultaneously.
Most areas where leopards and tigers co-exist are human-dominated and accounting for the multi-layered interactions between leopards, tigers, and people is therefore key to understanding the ripple effects of human activities such as conservation actions, the researchers say.
The study has important implications in light of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which is committed to doubling the worldwide tiger population by 2022, by revealing that as tiger populations and the territories they occupy grow, leopards are increasingly likely to be pushed into areas where people live.
The jostling of wildlife occupancy may open the door to more conflicts between people and leopards that could include leopard attacks on both people and livestock, as well as retaliatory killings of leopards.
The researchers' findings underscore how successful conservation efforts need science that takes into account the complex feedbacks between humans and nature.
The study is published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.