, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 875-881
Date: 29 May 2010

Do tigers displace leopards? If so, why?

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Abstract

We investigated predictions concerning the competitive relationships between tigers Panthera tigris and leopards Panthera pardus in Bardia National Park, Nepal, based on spatial distributions of scats and territorial markings (sign), analyses of scat content and census of wild ungulate prey. Medium-sized ungulates, in particular chital Axis axis, was the main food of both predators, but leopards consumed significantly larger proportions of domestic animals, small mammals, and birds than tigers. Tiger sign were never found outside the park, while leopard sign occurred both inside and outside, and were significantly closer to the park border than tiger sign. Significantly higher prey densities at locations of tiger sign than that of leopards were mainly due to a preference of the latter species for the park border areas. Our results imply that interference competition––and not competition for food––was a limiting factor for the leopard population, whose distribution was restricted to the margins of the tiger territories. We suggest that the composition of the prey base is a key factor in understanding the different results and interpretations reported in studies on tiger/leopard coexistence. There are two potential mechanisms that link interference competition and prey: (1) low abundance of large ungulate prey decreases foraging efficiency of tigers, leading to increased energetic stress and aggression towards leopards; and (2) increased diet overlap due to scarcity of large prey leads to increased encounter rates and increased levels of interference competition.