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Keywords:

  • carnivore;
  • community-based conservation;
  • human–wildlife conflict;
  • livestock;
  • prey–predator;
  • Uncia

Abstract

Livestock predation by large carnivores and their retaliatory persecution by pastoralists are worldwide conservation concerns. Poor understanding of the ecological and social underpinnings of this human–wildlife conflict hampers effective conflict management programs. The endangered snow leopard Uncia uncia is involved in conflict with people across its mountainous range in South and Central Asia, where pastoralism is the predominant land use, and is widely persecuted in retaliation. We examined human-snow leopard conflict at two sites in the Spiti region of the Indian Trans-Himalaya, where livestock outnumber wild ungulates, and the conflict is acute. We quantified the snow leopard's dependence on livestock by assessing its diet in two sites that differed in the relative abundance of livestock and wild ungulates. We also surveyed the indigenous Buddhist community's attitudes towards the snow leopard in these two sites. Our results show a relatively high dependence of snow leopards on livestock. A higher proportion of the snow leopard's diet (58%) was livestock in the area with higher livestock (29.7 animals km−2) and lower wild ungulate abundance (2.1–3.1 bharal Pseudois nayaur km−2), compared with 40% of diet in the area with relatively lower livestock (13.9 km−2) and higher wild ungulate abundance (4.5–7.8 ibex Capra ibex km−2). We found that the community experiencing greater levels of livestock losses was comparatively more tolerant towards the snow leopard. This discrepancy is explained by the presence of a conservation-incentive program at the site, and by differences in economic roles of livestock between these two communities. The former is more dependent on cash crops as a source of income while the latter is more dependent on livestock, and thereby less tolerant of the snow leopard. These data have implications for conflict management strategies. They indicate that the relative densities of livestock and wild prey may be reasonable predictors of the extent of predation by the snow leopard. However, this by itself is not an adequate measure of the intensity of conflict even in apparently similar cultural settings.