Large carnivores commonly prey on livestock when their ranges overlap. Pastoralism is the dominant land use type across the distributional range of the endangered snow leopard Panthera uncia. Snow leopards are often killed in retaliation against livestock depredation. Whether livestock, by forming an alternative prey, could potentially benefit snow leopards, or, whether livestock use of an area is detrimental to snow leopards is poorly understood. We examined snow leopard habitat use in a multiple use landscape that was comprised of sites varying in livestock abundance, wild prey abundance and human population size. We photographically sampled ten sites (average size 70 sq. km) using ten camera traps in each site, deployed for a period of 60 days. Snow leopard habitat use was computed as a Relative Use Index based on the total independent photographic captures and the number of snow leopard individuals captured at each site. We quantified livestock abundance, wild prey abundance, human population size and terrain ruggedness in each of the sites. Key variables influencing snow leopard habitat use were identified using Information Theory based model selection approach. Snow leopard habitat use was best explained by wild prey density, and showed a positive linear relationship with the abundance of wild ungulates. We found a hump-shaped relationship between snow leopard habitat use and livestock stocking density, with an initial increase in habitat use followed by a decline beyond a threshold of livestock density. Our results suggest that in the absence of direct persecution of snow leopards, livestock grazing and snow leopard habitat use are potentially compatible up to a certain threshold of livestock density, beyond which habitat use declines, presumably due to depressed wild ungulate abundance and associated anthropogenic disturbance.
Biological Conservation, 190: 8-13