Effects of temporary closure of a national park on leopard movement and behaviour in tropical Asia
Abstract Across Asia protected areas serve as refuges for carnivores inside human-dominated landscapes. However, the creation of hard edges around reserve boundaries where conflicts with humans arise and disturbance from human activities inside the reserves may affect carnivore behaviour and ecology. Thailand’s largest protected area, Kaeng Krachan National Park (2915km 2 ) receives >100,000 visitors annually while maintaining an intact assemblage of prey species for large carnivores, making it a potentially important site for population recovery of leopards ( Panthera pardus ), tigers ( Panthera tigris ) and dholes ( Cuon alpinus ). We assessed the abundance of leopards and their prey base, and their response to changes in levels of human activity after an unexpected flooding event that resulted in the park being closed to visitors for >6months. Using camera-traps, we identified 6 individual leopards and used spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) methods, incorporating humans and prey as covariates, to test for factors affecting the detection probability of leopards before and after the park closure. Leopard density was unchanged between the two periods, however the movement and activity patterns were clearly different. In the absence of tourist activity, leopards tended to move more frequently, leopard detection rates increased by 70% and activity shifted towards being more diurnal. The consequences of these changes in behaviour may include improved health, reproduction and survival. A management strategy involving seasonal closure of parks may serve to alleviate pressure on leopards and other carnivores. We recommend using information on abundance of large carnivores and their prey species, and human disturbance as the key indicators for long-term monitoring and management of protected areas in Southeast Asia.
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