Carnivore attacks on humans and livestock are by far the most gruesome and provocative form of human-wildlife conflict. In response to attacks, people often poison animals and destroy habitat, actions that threaten the survival of rare carnivores and may erode lines of dependency between predators and wild prey. The risk of an attack varies geographically and depends on a variety of factors, including habitat, topography, wild prey availability and distribution of villages and livestock. It is currently unclear which features conflate the risk of attack, creating challenges for landscape-scale conservation planning that reconciles human land use and felid conservation. My research addresses two urgent questions that, left unanswered, have hindered effective mitigation of human-felid interactions: What determines where tigers and leopards attack prey and how can people minimize the risk of an attack on their livestock?
In November 2011, with support from the Yale Tropical Resources Institute, I will begin fieldwork to investigate how landscape features shape tiger and leopard predation on natural prey species and domestic livestock in Kanha Tiger Reserve, India. The project will explore correlations between landscape covariates, carnivore and ungulate abundance, and ungulate kill sites and vigilance to produce “predation risk maps” that depict where wild and domestic ungulates are most vulnerable to carnivore attacks across the landscape. Predation risk maps were initially developed to explore spatial drivers of wolf-elk interactions in Yellowstone National Park but have never before been explored in a human-wildlife conflict context. I plan to explore whether these maps can provide villagers with a tangible tool for avoiding attack hot spots when grazing livestock and assist Forest Department officials in focusing tiger protection efforts. This research will provide valuable insight on how humans shape carnivore-prey interactions and explore the use of a predation risk maps as a novel conservation tool for mitigating human-carnivore conflict.