WCS Scientist Maps Occurrence of Herbivores Outside 5 Tiger Reserves to Help Protect Species & Manage Conflicts

Collage of Five Subjects of Study; Courtesy WCS

In July, during a trip from Haridwar to beyond Rishikesh in India’s Uttarakhand state, we happened to cross the Chilla-Motichur elephant corridor and came away wondering if there really was a corridor?

For, human settlements were just about everywhere and the only patch of green and a signboard that announced the presence of the corridor was sandwiched between a road bridge on a river and a railway line (a major killer of wildlife that requires separate attention).

Still, we believe that elephants would get their space and the reason for that belief is that Wildlife Trust of India is involved in the conservation of whatever’s left of that corridor.

To widen our understanding on the threat of isolating wildlife sanctuaries caused by increasing human settlements, Wildlife Conservation Society scientist Dr. Krithi K. Karanth has published a paper on occurrence of herbivores outside five tiger reserves in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

The study “Wildlife in the Matrix: Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Herbivore Occurrence in Karnataka, India” helps in understanding how species are distributed spatially and temporally in and outside reserves, and what factors influence their occurrence is critical to long term conservation efforts. This will have implications on protection of the species and their management as well as conflict mitigation.

Dr. Karnath shows how wildlife reserves are becoming increasingly isolated from the surrounding human-dominated landscapes particularly in Asia. He argues that it is imperative to understand how species are distributed spatially and temporally in and outside reserves, and what factors influence their occurrence.

“This study surveyed 7500 km2 landscape surrounding five reserves in the Western Ghats to examine patterns of occurrence of five herbivores: elephant, gaur, sambar, chital, and pig. Species distributions are modeled spatiotemporally
using an occupancy approach.

“Trained field teams conducted 3,860¬† interview-based occupancy surveys in a 10-km buffer surrounding these five reserves in 2012. I found gaur and wild pig to be the least and most wide ranging species, respectively. Elephant and chital exhibit seasonal differences in spatial distribution unlike the other three species.

“As predicted, distance to reserve, the reserve itself, and forest cover were associated with higher occupancy of all species, and higher densities of people negatively influenced occurrence of all species. Park management, species protection, and conflict mitigation efforts in this landscape need to incorporate temporal and spatial understanding of species distributions.

“All species are known crop raiders and conflict prone locations with resources (such as water and forage) have to be monitored and managed carefully. Wildlife reserves and adjacent areas are critical for long-term persistence and habitat use
for all five herbivores and must be monitored to ensure wildlife can move freely. Such a large-scale approach to map and monitor species distributions can be adapted to other landscapes to identify and monitor critical habitats shared by people and wildlife.”

For the full study findings, click here

Collage of Five Subjects of Study; Courtesy WCS
Collage of Five Subjects of Study; Courtesy WCS