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Prey preferences of the leopard (Panthera pardus)

Authors


Correspondence
Matt W. Hayward, Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, PO Box 77000, Port Elizabeth 6031, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 2308; Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2946
Email: hayers111@aol.com

Abstract

Leopards Panthera pardus have a catholic diet and are generally thought to prey on medium-sized ungulates; however, knowledge on which species are actually preferred and avoided is lacking, along with an understanding of why such preferences arise. Twenty-nine published and four unpublished studies of leopard diet that had relative prey abundance estimates associated with them were analysed from 13 countries in 41 different spatial locations or temporal periods throughout the distribution of the leopard. A Jacobs' index value was calculated for each prey species in each study and the mean of these was then tested against a mean of 0 using t or sign tests for preference or avoidance. Leopards preferentially prey upon species within a weight range of 10–40 kg. Regression plots suggest that the most preferred mass of leopard prey is 25 kg, whereas the mean body mass of significantly preferred prey is 23 kg. Leopards prefer prey within this body mass range, which occur in small herds, in dense habitat and afford the hunter minimal risk of injury during capture. Consequently, impala, bushbuck and common duiker are significantly preferred, with chital likely to also be preferred with a larger sample size from Asian sites. Species outside the preferred weight range are generally avoided, as are species that are restricted to open vegetation or that have sufficient anti-predator strategies. The ratio of mean leopard body mass with that of their preferred prey is less than 1 and may be a reflection of their solitary hunting strategy. This model will allow us to predict the diet of leopards in areas where dietary information is lacking, also providing information to assist wildlife managers and conservation bodies on predator carrying capacity and predator–prey interactions.

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