Anchoring and adjusting amidst humans: Ranging behavior of Persian leopards along the Iran-Turkmenistan borderland.
Farhadinia MS., Johnson PJ., Macdonald DW., Hunter LTB.
Understanding the space use and movement ecology of apex predators, particularly in mosaic landscapes encompassing different land-uses, is fundamental for formulating effective conservation policy. The top extant big cat in the Middle East and the Caucasus, the Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor, has disappeared from most of its historic range. Its spatial ecology in the areas where it remains is almost unknown. Between September 2014 and May 2017, we collared and monitored six adult leopards (5 males and 1 female) using GPS-satellite Iridium transmitters in Tandoureh National Park (355 km2) along the Iran-Turkmenistan borderland. Using auto-correlated Kernel density estimation based on a continuous-time stochastic process for relocation data, we estimated a mean home range of 103.4 ± SE 51.8 km2 for resident males which is larger than has been observed in other studies of Asian leopards. Most predation events occurred in core areas, averaging 32.4 ± SE 12.7 km2. Although neighboring leopards showed high spatiotemporal overlap, their hunting areas were largely exclusive. Five out of six of leopards spent some time outside the national park, among human communities. Our study suggests that a national park can play an 'anchoring' role for individuals of an apex predator that spend some time in the surrounding human-dominated landscapes. Therefore, we envisage that instead of emphasizing either land sharing or land sparing, a combined approach can secure the viability of resilient large carnivores that are able to coexist with humans in the rugged montane landscapes of west and central Asia.