India’s wildlife has some serious lessons in co-existence to offer to the human beings who seem to be busy finding ways to keep one another out. Researchers have found that three carnivores — tigers, leopards, and dholes (Asian wild dog) — seemingly in direct competition with one another, are living side by side in the Indian wild with surprisingly little conflict.
Usually, big cats and wild canids live in different locations to avoid each other.
Yet in four relatively small reserves in India’s wildlife-rich Western Ghats region, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have found that they are co-existing, despite competing for much of the same prey, including sambar deer, chital, and pigs.
“Tigers, leopards, and dholes are doing a delicate dance in these protected areas, and all are manging to survive,” said Ullas Karanth, WCS Director for Science in Asia and lead author of the study.
Using dozens of non-invasive camera traps for sampling entire wild life, rather than track a handful of individuals, the research team recorded some 2,500 images of the three predators in action.
The authors found that in reserves with an abundance of prey, dholes, the wild dogs, which are active during the day, did not come in much contact with the more nocturnal tigers and leopards.
But in Bhadra Reserve in Karnataka where prey was scarcer, their active times overlapped, yet dholes still managed to avoid the big cats.
In Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka, a park teeming with all three carnivores and their prey, leopards actively try to avoid tigers.
Overall, these carnivores have developed smart adaptations to coexist, even while they exploit the same prey base, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B said.
“We were surprised to see how each species has remarkably different adaptations to prey on different prey sizes, use different habitat types and be active at different times,” Karanth said.
Both tigers and dholes are classified as Endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Leopards are considered Vulnerable.