If you save the tigers, what happens to the leopards?


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The Global Tiger Recovery Program aims to double the worldwide tiger population by 2022. But new research from a World Heritage site in Nepal suggests that increasing the number of tigers might force leopards to live closer to humans.

A study conducted in and around Nepal's Chitwan National Park showed tigers preferred to live in areas were humans were the most scarce. This appeared to displace the leopards, forcing them to live closer to humans on the edge of the park. The leopards also became more active during the night as a way of avoiding their human neighbours.

The study was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation. The research "demonstrates the challenge of conserving multiple endangered species simultaneously", said co-author Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University.

Most areas where leopards and tigers co-exist are dominated by humans. Chitwan, which is in a valley in the lowlands of the Himalayas, is home to leopards, tigers and humans – who live on the park's borders and rely on its forest wood and grasses. As the leopards move closer to the human habitats, they pose a potential danger to humans and livestock, and in turn may be threatened by retaliatory attacks.

"We want to see increased tiger numbers – that's a great outcome from a conservation perspective," said Neil Carter from Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Centre, who led the study. "But we also need to anticipate reverberations throughout other parts of the coupled human and natural systems in which tigers are moving into, such as the way leopards respond to their new cohabitants, and in turn how humans respond."

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