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Conserving Tigers Could Hurt Leopards

When one predator returns, another can be displaced

(Photo: Will Gray/JAI/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

There's a pecking order in the animal kingdom, even among alpha predators: Tigers trump leopards every time. If a tiger decides to take up residence in a leopard's neighborhood, the leopard will move to a different part of the forest, just to avoid the tiger. 

These natural dynamics are creating an unexpected predicament in Nepal, where tiger populations—as in the rest of the world—  have been decimated over the past decades, SESYNC reports. But Nepal is committed to doubling its tiger population by 2022, and if all goes according to plan, the country will be home to a lot more tigers, relatively soon. While that's good news for conservationists, it is problematic for leopards—especially when humans are also part of that equation.

Both tigers and leopards hate being around humans. But when a tiger arrives in the forest, leopards must move to the fringes of the habitat, where humans are much more abundant, new research from Michigan State University shows. Just to avoid encounters with man, the displaced leopards shift their normal daytime hunting patterns to night, the researchers found.

That change might have implications on their ability to survive (though more research is needed to test that hypothesis). These new habitation patterns also mean that livestock, pets and perhaps even people might be at greater risk of a leopard attack, SESYNC writes. If the number of leopard attacks rises, leopards—a threatened species—might suffer from retaliatory killings. 

"We want to see increased tiger numbers—that’s a great outcome from a conservation perspective," lead author Neil Carter told SESYNC. "But we also need to anticipate reverberations throughout other parts of the coupled human and natural systems in which tigers are moving into."  

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