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Title: Anti-predator strategies of blue sheep (naur) under varied predator compositions: a comparison of snow leopard-inhabited valleys with and without wolves in Nepal

Author: Thapa, K., Rayamajhi, S.

Abstract: In Nepal, naur are usually the staple wild prey for the snow leopard, a solitary stalker hunter, and in some cases, for the wolf who hunts in a pack. We assumed that naur would adapt their anti-predatory responses to the presence of chasing and ambushing predators in the Manang Valley, where there are snow leopards and wolves, and in the Nar Phu valley, an area where there is only the snow leopard.
Aims. The aim of this study was to determine if there were differences in anti-predator strategies (vigilance, habitat selection and escape terrain) of naur in two valleys over two seasons, spring and autumn.
Methods. In spring 2019, we conducted a reconnaissance survey on the status of the naur and its habitat in the Manang and Nar Phu valleys of the Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal. In spring and autumn 2020 and 2021, we observed 360 focal naur individuals (180 individuals in each valley), using the vigilance behaviour methodology to examine the behaviour of the naur.
Key results. There was little difference in the size of the naur groups between the Manang and Nar Phu valleys. The naur were twice as vigilant in Manang (15%), where there are snow leopards and wolves, as they were in Nar Phu (9%), with only snow leopards. The distance from the naur to escape cover was significantly shorter in Manang than in Nar Phu valley. Naur used significantly more rolling terrain in Nar Phu than in Manang.

Conclusions. The return of wolves to the Manang valley may have resulted in an increase in the level of naur vigilance. Most likely, the wolves in Manang have already had an effect on the female-to-young-ratio, and this effect will possibly have important consequences for the naur population, as well as at the ecosystem level in the future. Other key determining factors, such as the climate crisis and changes in local resources, could have a significant impact on the naur population, indicating the need for more research. Implications. The findings of this study would provide valuable baseline information for the design of a science-based conservation strategy for conservation managers and scientists on naur, snow leopards and wolves.


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