Today, the world faces a biodiversity loss that is referred to as a human-induced mass extinction. Especially large carnivores are vulnerable to local extirpation and 61% of these are classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On the one hand, large carnivores are of particular ecological, economic and social importance. On the other hand, they are naturally rare and show limited self-recovery capacities. This scenario makes large carnivores priority species for conservation.
Apart from habitat loss or degradation and exploitation, the lack of wild prey and especially active persecution to prevent or to retaliate livestock depredation represent the main threats to large carnivores. It remains insufficiently studied how the loss of wild prey affects livestock depredation and, hence, direct persecution of large carnivores - previous investigations have found ambiguous results. However, understanding this relationship is crucial when considering the global scales of the livestock industry and the increasing pressure on wild ungulate populations, especially in developing countries.
This study is designed to investigate, whether livestock depredation by the globally threatened snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is provoked or reduced by depletion of the wild prey base. Simultaneously, the effects of domestic prey abundance and livestock protection measures will be analysed. Therefore, we will assess the existing abundance of wild prey (blue sheep Pseudois nayaur, Himalayan marmot Marmota himalayana) using various methodologies (e.g. double-observer point count). Both the intensity of livestock depredation and the abundance/catchability of domestic prey will be assessed in semi-structured questionnaire surveys and complemented by data obtained during wild prey monitoring. Finally, the effects of wild and domestic prey abundance and livestock protection measures on livestock depredation by snow leopards will be analysed using the Generalized Linear Modelling (GLM) approach and/or Bayesian occupancy modelling.
The results of this study will provide the basis for pinpointing conservation foci. Conclusions of this project will contribute to the mitigation of conflicts between snow leopards and livestock owners in the Himalaya as well as between large carnivores and local people all over the world.