The poop of tigers has helped a team of scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) understand the prey selection patterns of the striped feline in the Indian part of the Terai-Arc Landscape, or TAL.
The faeces of the tigers also helped the scientists gather information about the hotspots of conflicts related to livestock predation across 15,000 sq. km of the animal’s habitat along the foothills of the Himalayas.
The assessment of the food habits of the tiger (Panthera tigris) was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Mammalogy, a peer-reviewed international publication.
The authors of the study are Suvankar Biswas, Shrewshree Kumar, Meghna Bandhopadhyay, Shiv Kumar Patel, Salvador Lyngdoh, Bivash Pandav, and Samrat Mondol. Dr. Biswas is also associated with the World Wide Fund for Nature-India.
The scientists chose the 900 km linear stretch of TAL, recognised as one of the most productive habitats in the subcontinent, idea for the study between November 2014 and December 2020. The globally important tiger conservation landscape is characterised by a mosaic of forests and grasslands covering both protected areas (PAs) and non-PAs.
Overall, TAL represents three major habitat types – Shivalik covering parts of the lower Himalayas, Bhabar covering the foothills of the lower Himalayas marked by pebbles and boulders, and Terai comprising the lowland region below the Himalayan foothills and north of the Indo-Gangetic plains covering entire Uttar Pradesh, southern parts of Uttarakhand, and Bihar.
About 22% of the wild tiger population in India is found across the TAL, living amidst some of the highest human and livestock densities on the subcontinent. The landscape also has a high mammalian diversity with herbivores including gaur, nilgai, sambar, northern swamp deer, wild pig, chital, goral, and some primates, carnivores such as leopard, wild dog, and hyena apart from the tiger, and omnivores including the sloth bear and Asiatic black bear.
The dump of an animal yields information about its lineage, genetic relatedness, diet preference, population status, and the use of the landscape.
A total of 510 genetically confirmed tiger faeces were collected across the landscape and 10 wild ungulates and livestock as prey species were identified.
Field sampling was conducted across six tiger reserves (Rajaji, Corbett, Amangarh, Pilibhit, Dudhwa, and Valmiki), two wildlife sanctuaries (Nandhaur and Sohagibarwa), two conservation reserves, and 11 non-PAs; including nine forest divisions and two social forestry divisions across Bihar, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.
“A total of 1,689 large carnivore faecal samples were opportunistically collected during extensive animal trail surveys… The sampling strategy was designed to maximise the outcome within this landscape based on available information on tiger movement,” the study said.
Large-bodied species - sambar, swamp deer, nilgai, chital, wild pig, and livestock – comprised about 94% of the diet, with sambar, chital, and livestock having the highest relative proportions. “Habitat-specific (Shivalik-Bhabar and Terai) analyses indicate that prey selection is driven by prey abundance and body weight but not determined by protection status (PAs versus non-PAs). Results also suggest that PAs and non-PAs in the Terai region were more prone to livestock predation-related conflict,” the study said.
Given the significant role of large carnivores in maintaining ecological diversity and interactions within their respective biological communities, the scientists suggested careful management
interventions with community involvement to reduce threats of livestock predation-related conflict.
They also suggested long-term conservation plans including prey abundance estimation outside the PAs, reduction of grazing pressures, and detailed records of tiger mortalities with causal investigations to ensure future conflict-free tiger persistence across the TAL.