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  • Kasim Rafiq

Strangers in the night: new paper published on leopard encounters with other African predators

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

The second of my PhD chapters is now available. In a nutshell:

Encounters between wildlife are important. They can, for example, impact an animal’s ability to find suitable mates, whether they lose a kill to a dominant predator, and even the transmission of diseases. And so encounters can impact the density of wildlife within an area. But for large carnivores, we know relatively little about the factors influencing whether two individuals from different species are likely to meet. This is because large carnivores tend to occur in low densities, they cover wide areas of land, and they typically occur over landscapes that are difficult for researchers to navigate across. As a consequence, directly observing encounters between individuals is challenging. Even modern technologies, like animal-worn GPS sensors, haven’t traditionally been able to collect data on encounters because of hardware and software limitations. In recently published work, however, alongside collaborators from the BPCT and RVC, I used custom-built, high-resolution GPS radio collars to look at likely encounters between leopards, lions, African wild dogs, and cheetahs. From 2012 to 2018, we recorded 115 leopard-competitor encounters at our study site in northern Botswana. We found that encounters initiated by smaller competitors tended to occur in habitats with poor visibility, suggesting that encounters in these cases are a result of imperfect decision making. We also found that encounters peaked during periods of shared high-activity overlap between species and often varied with moonlight availability.

These results provide insights into how the environment can shape encounters within communities of coexisting competitors and how changes in activity patterns (caused by other things) could impact competition dynamics within species. Looking at these insights alongside the actual fitness consequences of encounters could help us to understand how changing environments might impact the viability of species who share their habitats with competitors.

Or send me a message to get an author-copy.


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