Habitat use responses of the African leopard in a human-disturbed region of rural Mozambique
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Leopard (Panthera pardus) populations across Africa are increasingly exposed to high levels of anthropogenic disturbance, and information on habitat use responses of leopards in human-disturbed landscapes can help inform status assessments and guide conservation interventions. Unfortunately, however, few studies have investigated leopard ecology in human-disturbed landscapes, particularly in Africa. We employed camera-trapping and occupancy modelling to provide inferences on leopard habitat use in a National Park in Mozambique impacted by subsistence farming and bushmeat poaching. Replicated detection/non-detection occupancy surveys were used to estimate site use by leopards in a representative area of the park, and to investigate relative impacts of environmental, conspecific and anthropogenic factors on leopard occurrence. The proportion of sites used by leopards was estimated at 0.814 (SE = 0.093), which is approximately twice the occupancy previously reported for lion (44%) and cheetah (40%) in the same area. Leopard presence was not strongly predicted by any of the covariates, indicating there were no strong limiting factors. While leopards generally avoided human settlements and were positively predicted by prey, results suggest that there was sufficient prey and space for the species to use most available habitats. The greatest contributing factor to leopard habitat use was a positive correlation with bushmeat poachers and lions. It is possible that these other predators provide a more accurate indicator of prey availability than our single-species indicator based on camera trap data. This study provides important novel information on habitat use by leopards in a system disturbed by rural human subsistence activities in Africa.
- RESEARCH: Somers M