Biodiv Sci ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (9): 21510.

### Spatiotemporal patterns of cattle depredation by the North Chinese leopard in Taihang Mountains and its management strategy: A case study in Heshun, Shanxi Province

Yiqing Wang1, Ziyu Ma1, Gang Wang2, Yanlin Liu1, Dazhao Song1, Beibei Liu1, Lu Li1, Xinguo Fan3, Qiaowen Huang1,*(), Sheng Li4,5,*()

1. 1. Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance, Beijing 101121
2. Heshun Ecological Conservation Society, Heshun, Shanxi 032700
3. Government of Mafang Town, Heshun, Shanxi 032704
4. School of Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871
5. Institute of Ecology, Peking University, Beijing 100871
• Received:2021-12-10 Accepted:2022-03-24 Online:2022-09-20 Published:2022-04-06
• Contact: Qiaowen Huang,Sheng Li

Abstract:

Background & Aim: Human‒wildlife conflict is a global challenge facing wildlife conservation today, and requires case-specific solutions for mitigation. To effectively manage the conflicts and prevent future incidents, thorough understandings of its patterns and causes, the locals’ attitudes toward the conflicts and factors that may affect people’s behaviors are needed. Large carnivores can be perceived as problematic as they may cause severe human-wildlife conflicts through livestock depredation and even direct human injury or death. Livestock depredation is one of the main causes of human‒carnivore conflicts. If managed inefficiently, it will lead to retaliatory killings toward the “problematic” large carnivores, thus imposing a threat to the species’ survival. Elimination of these apex predators will subsequently lead to the losses of critical functions they play in the ecosystem. Taihang Mountains is the core distribution area of the North Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis), the leopard subspecies endemic to China. Cattle depredation by leopards frequently occurs in this area and is therefore a challenge facing North Chinese leopard conservation.
Methods: Our study area is in Heshun County, Shanxi Province, locating in the middle part of the Taihang Mountains. Since 2015, Shanxi Tieqiaoshan Provincial Nature Reserve, Heshun Ecological Conservation Association, Government of Mafang Town and Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance jointly launched a compensation project for cattle depredation by leopards in Heshun. Information for each cattle depredation event was recorded during this project from 2015 to 2019. A camera-trap network was also set up in the same area (from 2016 to 2019) to examine the spatial distribution of the relative abundance of cattle, North Chinese leopard and leopard’s primary wild prey, i.e. Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa). In 2020, we interviewed 107 households who received money from compensation about their attitudes toward leopards, cattle depredation and the compensation project. With these data, we examined the spatiotemporal patterns of cattle depredation events and conducted a spatial risk model to evaluate what factors that may increase the probability of depredation incidents. We then mapped the risk of cattle depredation by leopards to the entire study area. We also investigated the relationship between herd management and the number of cattle injured/dead per household. As for the economic and social aspects, we calculated the economic impacts of cattle depredation on Heshun’s livestock husbandry industry and on individual households, and examined people’s attitudes toward leopards and their perceptions towards the risk of cattle depredation. At last, we provided specific suggestions for the mitigations of human-wildlife conflicts in Heshun.
Results: We identified 195 cattle depredation events from 2015 to 2019 and compensated 116 households with a total of 270.5 thousand Yuan RMB. We found that the frequency of depredation was higher during the summer, during which the cattle were ranged freely in the mountain. The risk of cattle depredation decreased with the increase in the relative abundance of Siberian roe deer and increased with distance to villages, significantly (P < 0.05). The relative abundance of cattle was the third most important factor in predicting the risk. The boundary of protected area and the relative abundance of leopards are the two least important factors, both of which were not present in the 15 models with ΔAIC ≤ 2. Besides, the practice of herd management may also have an impact on this risk, as herders with loose management tend to lose more cattle from depredation (P = 0.056). We found that the impact of cattle depredation on Heshun’s animal husbandry industry was minor as a whole. However, individual households who have experienced cattle depredation might bear a remarkable economic loss. This had led to individuals’ negative attitudes towards leopards, as well as complaints about insufficient compensation.
Recommendations: In order to mitigate the impacts of livestock depredation by leopards as well as reduce future incidents, we proposed the following recommendations. Firstly, strengthening cattle management by, for example, constraining the free-ranging cattle within a certain distance away from villages and enclosing cattle in captivity at night during the free-ranging season to reduce the risk of depredation by leopards. Secondly, designating non-grazing zones where livestock grazing is strictly prohibited, thus reducing the risk of livestock depredation and allowing the recovery of the leopard’s wild prey population. Thirdly, continuing the cattle depredation compensation project to mitigate the economic burden incurred. In addition, carrying out regular visits to the local communities to alleviate the emotional impacts suffered by the locals, and conducting natural education to promote positive attitudes towards leopards and other wildlife. Finally, conducting wildlife population monitoring, especially for leopard’s natural prey, and implementing conservation measures when necessary to maintain their population stability. We believe these management strategies may effectively reduce the risk of livestock depredation and help promoting the coexistence between human and wildlife in the long term.