Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The ecology of the leopard (Panthera pardus) was studied from 2002 to 2006 in the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary and Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India. Density estimates of the potential prey species of leopards and its sympatric carnivores, the tiger (Panthera tigris) and the dhole (Cuon alpinus) were made using the line-transect method annually from 2002 to 2005, and for three habitat types. The results obtained by vehicle transects were compared with those of foot transects for obtaining reliable density estimates. The food habits and prey preference of leopards, tigers and dholes were quantified. Leopard density estimates for three sites in Bori-Satpura and one site in Rajasthan, the Sariska Tiger Reserve, were made using camera traps and the mark-recapture method. A predictive habitat suitability map for leopards using Environmental Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA) was made at two scales and its reliability was evaluated. The environmental variables important in describing the habitat for leopards were identified and the extent and location of potential leopard habitat available for conservation action in south-central Madhya Pradesh was quantified.
Chital (Axis axis) density was higher in the moist deciduous and teak dominated habitats compared to the dry deciduous habitat. Sambar (Cervus unicolor) density was higher in the teak dominated habitat. The densities of nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), wild pig (Sus scrofa) and muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) for the three habitat types were not statistically different. Annual density was lower for all prey species in 2005 as compared to 2002. Sambar was the most important prey species in the leopard’s diet. It was also the most preferred prey species by leopards, as well as by tigers and dholes. Density of leopards was estimated at 7.3, 7.5, 8.0 and 9.3 per 100 km2 for the four samples in Satpura Tiger Reserve using the half MMDM method and 4.2, 4.6, 5.3 and 6.2 per 100 km2 for the full MMDM method. The estimates for the sampled area in Sariska Tiger Reserve using the two methods were 30.9 and 20.7 per 100 km2, respectively. The results of the ENFA model showed that habitat use by leopards in Satpura was strongly associated with moist and teak forests, as well as with most prey species and was weakly negatively associated with the distance to villages. At the larger scale, in south-central Madhya Pradesh, leopard habitat was positively associated with terrain ruggedness, sambar availability and percentage of forested areas. Approximately 11500 km2 of habitat in southcentral Madhya Pradesh is likely to support leopard populations. The districts with the most optimal habitat were found to be Betul, Hoshangabad and Chhindwara, which have about 2000 km2 of contiguous habitat for leopard conservation.