Conservation of carnivores and their habitats is a complex challenge. Many of India’s carnivore species continue to share space with humans, and this necessitates understanding human-carnivore interactions to minimize conflict and foster co-existence. A recent study by researchers from the Centre for Wildlife Studies, University of Florida, Wildlife Conservation Society-India and USA, and Duke University examined interactions between humans and carnivores (dhole, Indian wolf, Indian fox, golden jackal and striped hyena) in the Kanha-Pench corridor in central India.
The study was conducted across ~10,000 sq. km of multi-use forests interspersed by grasslands, scrublands, and human settlements. The researchers use an innovative socio-ecological framework, combining information from 1600 km of indirect sign surveys and about 700 interviews with local residents to map carnivore distributions and patterns of conflict (depredation of cattle, goats and poultry). The authors also investigated the overlap between wild carnivores and domestic dogs in the region to better understand interactions between the two.
Dholes used only 12% of the landscape, whereas wolves used 57% of the landscape. Striped hyenas occupied 36%, Indian foxes occupied 50% and jackals occupied around 86% of the area. Forests, open scrublands and terrain ruggedness influenced carnivore distributions. Livestock/poultry depredation was lowest by dholes (21%) and highest by jackals (>95%). Land cover type and the number of livestock or poultry owned by people influenced depredation patterns. The study calls for better husbandry practices and efficient decentralized insurance schemes as potential measures for mitigating losses due to depredation. The five wild carnivore species also showed high spatial overlap with free-ranging dogs, suggesting potential competitive interactions and disease risks.
Conservation of carnivore habitats outside protected areas is often at odds with commercial interests. There is considerable ease with which public lands—including forests—are diverted for infrastructure development. The study proposes that (i) concerted efforts should be directed towards retaining the current land cover structure, configuration and heterogeneity to conserve this carnivore community, (ii) depredation patterns mapped in the study should be used for systematically identifying locations for investing funds for conflict resolution, and (iii) active control and management of free-ranging dog populations would benefit both humans and wild carnivores.
The authors assert that the range of habitats that the five species represent (grasslands, scrublands, barren lands etc.) is much more fragile than intact forest reserves. There is need therefore for a shift in perspective from the current single-species/wilderness focus to a multi-pronged approach that balances human wellbeing while also conserving carnivores in shared landscapes.
Citation: Srivathsa A, Puri M, Karanth KK, Patel I, Kumar NS. 2019 Examining human–carnivore interactions using a socio-ecological framework: sympatric wild canids in India as a case study. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 182008.