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Concept: Leopard


Lions (Panthera leo) feed on diverse prey species, a range that is broadened by their cooperative hunting. Although humans are not typical prey, habitual man-eating by lions is well documented. Fathoming the motivations of the Tsavo and Mfuwe man-eaters (killed in 1898 in Kenya and 1991 in Zambia, respectively) may be elusive, but we can clarify aspects of their behaviour using dental microwear texture analysis. Specifically, we analysed the surface textures of lion teeth to assess whether these notorious man-eating lions scavenged carcasses during their depredations. Compared to wild-caught lions elsewhere in Africa and other large feliforms, including cheetahs and hyenas, dental microwear textures of the man-eaters do not suggest extreme durophagy (e.g. bone processing) shortly before death. Dental injuries to two of the three man-eaters examined may have induced shifts in feeding onto softer foods. Further, prompt carcass reclamation by humans likely limited the man-eaters' access to bones. Man-eating was likely a viable alternative to hunting and/or scavenging ungulates due to dental disease and/or limited prey availability.

Concepts: Africa, Predation, Lion, Felidae, Cheetah, Leopard, Tsavo, Tsavo maneaters


Human-carnivore conflicts challenge biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, but the role of diseases of domestic animals in their predation by carnivores is poorly understood. We conducted a human-leopard (Panthera pardus) conflict study throughout all 34 villages around Golestan National Park, Iran in order to find the most important conflict determinants and to use them in predicting the probabilities of conflict and killing of cattle, sheep and goats, and dogs. We found that the more villagers were dissatisfied with veterinary services, the more likely they were to lose livestock and dogs to leopard predation. Dissatisfaction occurred when vaccination crews failed to visit villages at all or, in most cases, arrived too late to prevent diseases from spreading. We suggest that increased morbidity of livestock makes them particularly vulnerable to leopard attacks. Moreover, conflicts and dog killing were higher in villages located closer to the boundaries of the protected area than in distant villages. Therefore, we appeal for improved enforcement and coordination of veterinary services in our study area, and propose several priority research topics such as veterinarian studies, role of wild prey in diseases of domestic animals, and further analysis of potential conflict predictors.

Concepts: Predation, Lion, Felidae, Dog, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Jaguar


The leopard’s (Panthera pardus) broad geographic range, remarkable adaptability, and secretive nature have contributed to a misconception that this species might not be severely threatened across its range. We find that not only are several subspecies and regional populations critically endangered but also the overall range loss is greater than the average for terrestrial large carnivores. To assess the leopard’s status, we compile 6,000 records at 2,500 locations from over 1,300 sources on its historic (post 1750) and current distribution. We map the species across Africa and Asia, delineating areas where the species is confirmed present, is possibly present, is possibly extinct or is almost certainly extinct. The leopard now occupies 25-37% of its historic range, but this obscures important differences between subspecies. Of the nine recognized subspecies, three (P. p. pardus, fusca, and saxicolor) account for 97% of the leopard’s extant range while another three (P. p. orientalis, nimr, and japonensis) have each lost as much as 98% of their historic range. Isolation, small patch sizes, and few remaining patches further threaten the six subspecies that each have less than 100,000 km(2) of extant range. Approximately 17% of extant leopard range is protected, although some endangered subspecies have far less. We found that while leopard research was increasing, research effort was primarily on the subspecies with the most remaining range whereas subspecies that are most in need of urgent attention were neglected.

Concepts: Species, Endangered species, Lion, Felidae, Extinction, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera


The trophy hunting of lions Panthera leo is contentious due to uncertainty concerning conservation impacts and because of highly polarised opinions about the practice. African lions are hunted across at least ∼558,000 km(2), which comprises 27-32% of the lion range in countries where trophy hunting of the species is permitted. Consequently, trophy hunting has potential to impart significant positive or negative impacts on lions. Several studies have demonstrated that excessive trophy harvests have driven lion population declines. There have been several attempts by protectionist non-governmental organisations to reduce or preclude trophy hunting via restrictions on the import and export of lion trophies. We document the management of lion hunting in Africa and highlight challenges which need addressing to achieve sustainability. Problems include: unscientific bases for quota setting; excessive quotas and off-takes in some countries; fixed quotas which encourage over-harvest; and lack of restrictions on the age of lions that can be hunted. Key interventions needed to make lion hunting more sustainable, include implementation of: enforced age restrictions; improved trophy monitoring; adaptive management of quotas and a minimum length of lion hunts of at least 21 days. Some range states have made important steps towards implementing such improved management and off-takes have fallen steeply in recent years. For example age restrictions have been introduced in Tanzania and in Niassa in Mozambique, and are being considered for Benin and Zimbabwe, several states have reduced quotas, and Zimbabwe is implementing trophy monitoring. However, further reforms are needed to ensure sustainability and reduce conservation problems associated with the practice while allowing retention of associated financial incentives for conservation.

Concepts: Africa, South Africa, Lion, Hunting, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Lions


Tigers (Panthera tigris), like many large carnivores, are threatened by anthropogenic impacts, primarily habitat loss and poaching. Current conservation plans for tigers focus on population expansion, with the goal of doubling census size in the next 10 years. Previous studies have shown that because the demographic decline was recent, tiger populations still retain a large amount of genetic diversity. Although maintaining this diversity is extremely important to avoid deleterious effects of inbreeding, management plans have yet to consider predictive genetic models. We used coalescent simulations based on previously sequenced mitochondrial fragments (n = 125) from 5 of 6 extant subspecies to predict the population growth needed to maintain current genetic diversity over the next 150 years. We found that the level of gene flow between populations has a large effect on the local population growth necessary to maintain genetic diversity, without which tigers may face decreases in fitness. In the absence of gene flow, we demonstrate that maintaining genetic diversity is impossible based on known demographic parameters for the species. Thus, managing for the genetic diversity of the species should be prioritized over the riskier preservation of distinct subspecies. These predictive simulations provide unique management insights, hitherto not possible using existing analytical methods.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Demography, Lion, Felidae, Demographic economics, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera


ABSTRACT Fewer than 500 Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) remain in the wild. Due to low numbers and their solitary and reclusive nature, tiger sightings across their range in the Russian Far East and China are rare; sightings of sick tigers are rarer still. Serious neurologic disease observed in several wild tigers since 2001 suggested disease emergence in this endangered species. To investigate this possibility, histology, immunohistochemistry (IHC), in situ hybridization (ISH), and reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) were performed on tissues from 5 affected tigers that died or were destroyed in 2001, 2004, or 2010. Our results reveal canine distemper virus (CDV) infection as the cause of neurologic disease in two tigers and definitively establish infection in a third. Nonsuppurative encephalitis with demyelination, eosinophilic nuclear viral inclusions, and positive immunolabeling for CDV by IHC and ISH were present in the two tigers with available brain tissue. CDV phosphoprotein (P) and hemagglutinin (H) gene products were obtained from brains of these two tigers by RT-PCR, and a short fragment of CDV P gene sequence was detected in lymph node tissue of a third tiger. Phylogenetically, Amur tiger CDV groups with an Arctic-like strain in Baikal seals (Phoca siberica). Our results, which include mapping the location of positive tigers and recognition of a cluster of cases in 2010, coupled with a lack of reported CDV antibodies in Amur tigers prior to 2000 suggest wide geographic distribution of CDV across the tiger range and recent emergence of CDV as a significant infectious disease threat to endangered Amur tigers in the Russian Far East. IMPORTANCE Recognition of disease emergence in wildlife is a rare occurrence. Here, for the first time, we identify and characterize a canine distemper virus (CDV), the second most common cause of infectious disease death in domestic dogs and a viral disease of global importance in common and endangered carnivores, as the etiology of neurologic disease and fatal encephalitis in wild, endangered Amur tigers. We establish that in 2010 CDV directly or indirectly killed ~1% of Amur tigers. Location of positive cases over an expansive geographic area suggests that CDV is widely distributed across the tiger range. Interspecies interactions are increasing as human populations grow and expand into wildlife habitats. Identifying animal reservoirs for CDV and identifying the CDV strains that are transmissible to and among wildlife species, including Amur tigers and sympatric critically endangered Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis), is essential for guiding conservation and mitigation efforts.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Endangered species, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Siberian tiger


The recent incorporation of molecular methods into analyses of social and mating systems has provided evidence that mating patterns often differ from those predicted by group social organization. Based on field studies and paternity analyses at a limited number of sites, African lions are predicted to exhibit a strict within-pride mating system. Extra-group paternity has not been previously reported in African lions; however, observations of extra-group associations among lions inhabiting Etosha National Park in Namibia suggest deviation from the predicted within-pride mating pattern. We analysed variation in 14 microsatellite loci in a population of 164 African lions in Etosha National Park. Genetic analysis was coupled with demographic and observational data to examine pride structure, relatedness and extra-group paternity (EGP). EGP was found to occur in 57% of prides where paternity was analysed (n = 7), and the overall rate of EGP in this population was 41% (n = 34). Group sex ratio had a significant effect on the occurrence of EGP (P < 0.05), indicating that variation in pride-level social structure may explain intergroup variation in EGP. Prides with a lower male-to-female ratio were significantly more likely to experience EGP in this population. The results of this study challenge the current models of African lion mating systems and provide evidence that social structure may not reflect breeding structure in some social mammals.

Concepts: Scientific method, Sociology, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Etosha National Park


Lethal infections with canine distemper virus (CDV) have recently been diagnosed in Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), but long-term implications for the population are unknown. This study evaluates the potential impact of CDV on a key tiger population in Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ), and assesses how CDV might influence the extinction potential of other tiger populations of varying sizes. An individual-based stochastic, SIRD (susceptible-infected-recovered/dead) model was used to simulate infection through predation of infected domestic dogs, and/or wild carnivores, and direct tiger-to-tiger transmission. CDV prevalence and effective contact based on published and observed data was used to define plausible low- and high-risk infection scenarios. CDV infection increased the 50-year extinction probability of tigers in SABZ by 6.3% to 55.8% compared to a control population, depending on risk scenario. The most significant factors influencing model outcome were virus prevalence in the reservoir population(s) and its effective contact rate with tigers. Adjustment of the mortality rate had a proportional impact, while inclusion of epizootic infection waves had negligible additional impact. Small populations were found to be disproportionately vulnerable to extinction through CDV infection. The 50-year extinction risk in populations consisting of 25 individuals was 1.65 times greater when CDV was present than that of control populations. The effects of density dependence do not protect an endangered population from the impacts of a multi-host pathogen, such as CDV, where they coexist with an abundant reservoir presenting a persistent threat. Awareness of CDV is a critical component of a successful tiger conservation management policy.

Concepts: Endangered species, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Tigers, Siberian tiger, Bengal tiger


Today, most wild tigers live in small, isolated Protected Areas within human dominated landscapes in the Indian subcontinent. Future survival of tigers depends on increasing local population size, as well as maintaining connectivity between populations. While significant conservation effort has been invested in increasing tiger population size, few initiatives have focused on landscape-level connectivity and on understanding the effect different landscape elements have on maintaining connectivity. We combined individual-based genetic and landscape ecology approaches to address this issue in six protected areas with varying tiger densities and separation in the Central Indian tiger landscape. We non-invasively sampled 55 tigers from different protected areas within this landscape. Maximum-likelihood and Bayesian genetic assignment tests indicate long-range tiger dispersal (on the order of 650 km) between protected areas. Further geo-spatial analyses revealed that tiger connectivity was affected by landscape elements such as human settlements, road density and host-population tiger density, but not by distance between populations. Our results elucidate the importance of landscape and habitat viability outside and between protected areas and provide a quantitative approach to test functionality of tiger corridors. We suggest future management strategies aim to minimize urban expansion between protected areas to maximize tiger connectivity. Achieving this goal in the context of ongoing urbanization and need to sustain current economic growth exerts enormous pressure on the remaining tiger habitats and emerges as a big challenge to conserve wild tigers in the Indian subcontinent.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Siberian tiger, Bengal tiger


Populations of large carnivores can persist in mountainous environments following extensive land use change and the conversion of suitable habitat for agriculture and human habitation in lower lying areas of their range. The significance of these populations is poorly understood, however, and little attention has focussed on why certain mountainous areas can hold high densities of large carnivores and what the conservation implications of such populations might be. Here we use the leopard (Panthera pardus) population in the western Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa, as a model system and show that montane habitats can support high numbers of leopards. Spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) analysis recorded the highest density of leopards reported outside of state-protected areas in sub-Saharan Africa. This density represents a temporally high local abundance of leopards and we explore the explanations for this alongside some of the potential conservation implications.

Concepts: Africa, Population density, Lion, Felidae, Leopard, Tiger, Panthera, Jaguar