Tigers, leopards and wild dogs found living in surprising harmony in Indian reserves

Dogs and cats
© Mixed/WCS

A new study finds 3 carnivores that usually avoid each other at all costs have found smart ways to peacefully co-exist.

There may be no more classic battle than that between cats and dogs. (Accept maybe that between cat lovers and dog lovers.) And in the wild it is no different, though possibly for different reasons. Predators that are in direct competition for prey usually stake out different areas to live and hunt – and in the case of big cats and wild dogs, live in different locations to avoid each other.

So it came as a surprise for researchers in India to find tigers, leopards, and dholes (Asian wild dog) living side by side with surprisingly little conflict. A new WCS study describing the research reveals that in four relatively small reserves in India’s Western Ghats region, the unlikely trio are co-existing well, even though they’re competing for much of the same things to eat.

Rather than tracking a small group of individual animals, the team employed dozens of eyes in the wild (that is, non-invasive camera traps) to sample entire populations. The prolific cameras snapped some 2,500 images of the predators in action; photos of the three subjects below.

WCS notes that that the carnivores have developed “smart adaptations to coexist, even while they exploit the same prey base.” And the animals have proven clever in how they adapt, arriving at mechanisms specific to the density of prey resources and other habitat features of the areas in which they live.

“Tigers, leopards, and dholes are doing a delicate dance in these protected areas, and all are managing to survive. We were surprised to see how each species has remarkably different adaptations to prey on different prey sizes, use different habitat types and be active at different times,” says Ullas Karanth, WCS Director for Science in Asia and lead author of the study. “Because of small and isolated nature of these high prey densities in these reserves, such adaptions are helpful for conservationists trying to save all three.”

As WCS reports, tigers and dholes are classified as Endangered by IUCN; leopards are considered Vulnerable. “Understanding these separate yet overlapping species’ needs is critical to managing predators and prey in small reserves, which is increasingly the scenario of the future," WCS writes. "By managing populations of flagship predators, like tigers, carefully overall biodiversity can also be conserved.”

And not to mention the indirect moral of the story: If felines and canids can get along in the wild, there may be hope for us primates yet.

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