Conservationists have found a new way to persuade rural farmers to protect tigers, as they established a direct link between tiger presence and fewer incidences of crop and livestock depredation.
This, according to a recent study, ‘the ecological benefit of tigers to farmers in reducing crop and livestock losses in the eastern Himalayas: Implications for conservation of large apex predators by Phuntsho Thinley (PhD) of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) and fellow conservationists, should serve as a reason to dissuade farmers from killing tigers.
It stated that justifying the need to conserve tigers based on their iconic status does not convince farmers, who lose crops and livestock to wild animals, to protect the top predator.
The study was conducted in 13 villages located in Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) on the inter-specific dynamics between tigers, leopards, and dholes, and their subsequent impact on livestock and crop losses faced by agro-pastoralists.
It stated that when a tiger was present in forests surrounding villages, leopards and dholes occupied areas closer to village croplands and preyed on a higher relative abundance of wild herbivore crop raiders, thereby significantly reducing crop and livestock losses.
Tiger influence on reduced crop loss frequency can be attributed to their displacement of leopards and dholes from deep forests to areas closer to cropland boundaries where they preyed on crop raiders such as wild pig (Sus scrofa), sambar (Rusa unicolor), and muntjac (Muntiacus muntjac) which were found in high relative abundance.
“In contrast, leopards and dholes occupied areas in deep forests farther from croplands when a tiger was absent in the village vicinity, leading to increased predation on a higher abundance of untended free-ranging livestock,” the study stated.
Studies conducted in the country concluded that it is a common herding practice to graze livestock unattended in forests near villages. According to the report, the absence of a tiger in the vicinity, leopards and dholes occupied areas farther away from cropland boundaries where they heavily predated on untended livestock.
“Although tigers do occasionally attack livestock, leopards and dholes are known to be principal predators of livestock, especially domestic cattle,” the report stated. “As such, the severity and frequency of livestock losses to predation in the forests are reduced in presence of a tiger in the vicinity because leopards and dholes were displaced much closer to cropland boundaries where relative livestock abundance is lower.”
It also stated that conservation practitioners should conserve large apex predators to maintain optimal inter-specific interactions in a large predator guild to benefit rural socio-economy.
The study, it claims, is timely because tigers are endangered in the face of increasing negative interactions with humans.
“It is especially relevant at the current tiger conservation crossroad where tiger scientists, conservation donors, and leaders of the tiger range countries commit to doubling tiger numbers.”
The study stated that conservation practitioners could use the significant finding to educate and dissuade rural farmers in developing countries from retaliating against the tiger in the event of livestock depredation.
It stated that conservation efforts must focus on adequate habitat protection, rigorous anti-poaching activities, education programmes to agro-pastoralists, better livestock husbandry practices and livestock compensation and insurance schemes.