, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 627-637
Date: 26 Nov 2010

Prey preference of large carnivores in Anamalai Tiger Reserve, India

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Abstract

Prey preferences of large carnivores (tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus) and dhole (Cuon alpinus)) in the tropical forest of Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) were evaluated. This was the first study in ATR to estimate the density of prey and the food habits of these large carnivores. The 958-km2 intensive study area was found to have a high mammalian prey density (72.1 animals per square kilometre) with wild boar (20.61 animals per square kilometre) and chital (20.54 animals per square kilometre) being the most common species, followed by nilgiri tahr (13.6 animals per square kilometre). When the density figures were multiplied by the average weight of each prey species, a high biomass density of 14,204 kg km−2 was obtained for the intensive study area. Scat analysis and incidental kill observation were used to determine the dietary composition of these predators. During the study from the period of March 2001 to April 2004, 1,145 tiger scats, 595 leopard scats and 2,074 dhole scats were collected and analysed. Kill data were based on direct observation of 66 tiger kills and 39 leopard kills. Sambar, with a density of 6.54 kg km−2 was the preferred prey for these carnivores. Sambar constitutes 35% of the overall diet of tiger, whereas it constitutes 17% and 25% in leopard and dhole diets, respectively. Chital was utilized less than sambar in the range of about 7%, 11% and 15% by tiger, leopard and dhole, respectively. Predator diet was estimated more accurately by scat analysis, which reveals 30% of smaller prey species in leopard’s diet, which was not observed by kill data. This study reveals that ATR harbours high prey density, and these large carnivores seem mostly dependent on the wild prey rather than on domestic livestock as in some other areas in the subcontinent. These factors make ATR a potential area for long-term conservation of these endangered carnivores.

Communicated by C. Gortázar