Title: Spatial separation of prey from livestock facilitates coexistence of a specialized large carnivore with human land use.
Author: Xiao, L., Hua, F., Knops, J. M. H., Zhao, X., Mishra, C., Lovari, S., Alexander, J. S., Weckworth, B., Lu, Z.
Abstract: There is an increasing emphasis in conservation strategies for large carnivores on facilitating their coexistence with humans. Justification for coexistence strategies should be based on a quantitative assessment of currently remaining large carnivores in human-dominated landscapes. An essential part of a carnivore’s coexistence strategy has to rely on its prey. In this research, we studied snow leopards Panthera uncia whose habitat mainly comprises human-dominated, unprotected areas, to understand how a large carnivore and its primary prey, the bharal Pseudois nayaur, could coexist with human land use activities in a large proportion of its range. Using a combination of livestock census, camera trapping and wildlife surveys, across a broad gradient of livestock grazing intensity in a 363 000 km2 landscape on the Tibetan Plateau, we found no evidence of livestock grazing impacts on snow leopard habitat use, bharal density and spatial distribution, even though livestock
density was 13 times higher than bharal density. Bharal were found to prefer utilizing more rugged habitats at higher elevations with lower grass forage conditions, whereas livestock dominated in flat valleys at lower elevations with higher productivity, especially during the resource-scarce season. These findings suggest that the spatial niche separation between bharal and livestock, together with snow leopards’ specialized bharal diet, minimized conflicts and allowed snow leopards and bharal to coexist in landscapes dominated by livestock grazing. In recent years, reduced hunting and nomadic herder’s lifestyle changes towards permanent residence may have further reinforced this spatial separation. Our results indicated that, for developing conservation strategies for large carnivores, the niche of their prey in relation to human land-use is a key variable that needs to be evaluated.