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Biology, Sustainability

Tigers, leopards, and humans… It’s complicated

When I was a kid and my brother moved out, I took over his room immediately. Why would we think that animals are any different? I am not against recovering threatened and endangered species obviously. But, it sometimes amazes me that we are surprised that other animals, and plants to, have adapted to their absence. A study to be published in Global Ecology and Conservation in the new year raises this concern.

The study, which looked at the behaviour of leopards in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, has shown that increasing tiger populations may force leopards and humans closer together. The gist is that tigers avoid people. They occupy the more isolated stretches of land away from people. The leopards avoid the tigers. Can’t really blame them. But this brings them closer to humans. Of course, the leopards don’t really want to be around humans, so they are adapting to more nocturnal lifestyles.

But here’s the real problem, tiger conservation programs are aiming to double the number of wild tigers by 2022. What consequences will that have for the leopards and the humans? Will they be pushed even closer together. Could tiger conservation result in the loss of leopard populations?

Nothing is ever simple. This is probably one of the reasons why so many reintroduction projects meet with limited to no success. And yet, we still are dominated by a way of thinking that insists that if we break things down to their individual pieces, we can understand the whole. We need ecosystem thinking, that recognizes the whole as a complex interweaving of not just the individual parts, but the many relationships between and within those parts. This study illustrates this fact, but it is the first to consider all three of these pieces. How many more would we need to add in order to truly understand the system?

Carter, N., Jasny, M., Gurung, B., & Liu, J. (2015). Impacts of people and tigers on leopard spatiotemporal activity patterns in a global biodiversity hotspot. Global Ecology and Conservation. DOI:10.1016/j.gecco.2014.11.013

Michigan State University. (2014, December 9). Conservation targeting tigers pushes leopards to change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2014 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141209133644.htm

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About Peyto

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities. Peyto is a reference to Bill Peyto who was an outfitter, trapper, and eventually a park warden in Banff National Park. Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier are both named after him. He is also a distant relative of mine.

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