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Ecol Evol. 2017 Feb 23;7(6):1964-1973. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2771. eCollection 2017 Mar.

Low leopard populations in protected areas of Maputaland: a consequence of poaching, habitat condition, abundance of prey, and a top predator.

Author information

1
School of Life Sciences University of KwaZulu-Natal Scottsville Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu-Natal South Africa.
2
School of Life Sciences University of KwaZulu-Natal Scottsville Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu-Natal South Africa; School of Ecology and Environment Studies Nalanda University Rajgir India.

Abstract

Identifying the primary causes affecting population densities and distribution of flagship species are necessary in developing sustainable management strategies for large carnivore conservation. We modeled drivers of spatial density of the common leopard (Panthera pardus) using a spatially explicit capture-recapture-Bayesian approach to understand their population dynamics in the Maputaland Conservation Unit, South Africa. We camera-trapped leopards in four protected areas (PAs) of varying sizes and disturbance levels covering 198 camera stations. Ours is the first study to explore the effects of poaching level, abundance of prey species (small, medium, and large), competitors (lion Panthera leo and spotted hyenas Crocuta crocuta), and habitat on the spatial distribution of common leopard density. Twenty-six male and 41 female leopards were individually identified and estimated leopard density ranged from 1.6 ± 0.62/100 km2 (smallest PA-Ndumo) to 8.4 ± 1.03/100 km2 (largest PA-western shores). Although dry forest thickets and plantation habitats largely represented the western shores, the plantation areas had extremely low leopard density compared to native forest. We found that leopard density increased in areas when low poaching levels/no poaching was recorded in dry forest thickets and with high abundance of medium-sized prey, but decreased with increasing abundance of lion. Because local leopard populations are vulnerable to extinction, particularly in smaller PAs, the long-term sustainability of leopard populations depend on developing appropriate management strategies that consider a combination of multiple factors to maintain their optimal habitats.

KEYWORDS:

Africa; Bayesian approach; competition; poaching; prey abundance; spatially explicit capture–recapture; threats

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