Predator–prey relationships in a middle Asian Montane steppe: Persian leopard versus urial wild sheep in Northeastern Iran
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- Farhadinia, M.S., Moqanaki, E.M. & Hosseini-Zavarei, F. Eur J Wildl Res (2014) 60: 341. doi:10.1007/s10344-013-0791-y
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Management controversies arise when both of the prey and predator in an ecosystem are species of conservation concern. We investigated trophic interactions between the endangered Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) and a declining mountain ungulate, urial wild sheep (Ovis vignei), on a high-altitude steppe of Iran. During two consecutive photo-trapping seasons of 1,300 nights in total, a minimum population of four adult leopards (one female and three males) was documented. Scat analysis indicated that urial wild sheep was the staple of the leopard diet with 48.44 % of total biomass consumed. Remains of domestic livestock in leopard scats were negligible yet alarming (14.53 % biomass consumed), followed by wild pigs (8.13 %) and wild goat (1.26 %). Financial costs of leopard depredation to livestock breeders during our study period were comparatively lower than livestock–leopard conflict hotspots across Iran. Using distance sampling, urial density was 15.8 individuals km−2 (±SE 6.2), and a total biomass of 47,621.5 kg for wild ungulates in the study area was estimated. We estimated that the annual removal rate of urial by leopards during our study period was 9.4 % of the total urial population. We suggest that continuous monitoring of the leopard and prey populations to assess predation impact should be considered, particularly in areas where a single species comprises a remarkable proportion of the leopard diet. In the meantime, assessing probable conflicts with local communities is recommended as a parallel management action to ensure long-term human–leopard coexistence. Our findings will aid wildlife managers in prey-depleted arid environments of western Asia to identify susceptible wild prey populations to predation by large carnivores; hence, significantly contribute in development and implementation of effective conservation measures to mitigate management conflicts.