Corridors Critical for India’s Big Cats
by Brian Switek
Every day, little by little, our species is creating new islands…
These are not islands in the sea. They are patches of forest, grassland, mountainside, and swamp that encompass what remains of the wild. Unlike islands dotted across the sea, though, there are sometimes pathways between these protected swaths that permit organisms to traverse the small percentage of their range that remains open to habitation. In the case of central India’s tigers and leopards, these wildlife corridors are critical for survival.
Zoologists Sandeep Sharma and Trishna Dutta of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, along with a host of coauthors, have just published a pair of studies that used felid feces to gauge the genetic diversity of tigers and leopards in central India’s Satpura-Maikal region. This area is one of the richest tiger holdouts left in the world, despite the fact that these forests have been cut back over 75 percent over the last 300 years. The need for farmland, organized hunting, and, since the 1970s, poaching have all taken their toll on tiger populations while leopards, who do all they can to avoid the remaining tigers, have been pushed out towards the fringes where the forest meets human settlements.
Spread across several conservation areas, the big cats would seem to be isolated from each other. As Sharma, Dutta, and their colleagues found, though, the roads and trails between the parks are essential for genetic exchange between the forests…
(read more: National Geographic)
(photos: T - Brian Switek; BL - Brian Gratwicke; BR - Sandeep Sharma)