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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards human-leopard coexistence in Sri Lanka : social and ecological dimensions Uduman, Aisha


A leading cause of large carnivore declines is conflict with humans, specifically due to livestock depredation. This conflict threatens both carnivore populations and human communities with livestock-dependent livelihoods. The expanding dairy industry in Sri Lanka, home to the endangered Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), provides an opportunity for proactive conflict mitigation. Little is known about incidents of livestock depredation or attitudes of pastoralists whose livelihoods may be threatened by leopard conflict. This thesis aimed to combine social and ecological research methods to address these knowledge gaps. We surveyed two pastoralist communities that differed in leopard conflict and socioecological factors (Yala and Central Hills) to identify determinants of attitudes towards leopards. We conducted Exploratory Factor Analysis and ran generalised linear models (GLMs) to detect influential variables. In the higher conflict region (Yala), attitudes towards leopards were positively related to socio-demographics (age, number of dependents, years rearing livestock) and an overall desire for wildlife conservation, while attitudes were negatively related to general awareness of leopard ecology and leopard-related tourism. In the lower conflict region (Central Hills), attitudes were positively related to a desire for increased government assistance in cattle rearing. The inability to own land were common concerns for pastoralists in both regions. We recommend assessing programs that may improve attitudes towards leopards, such as involving pastoralists in tourism programs and restricted land ownership. While the Central Hills is currently not experiencing depredation, proactively addressing hardships (e.g. improving roads, subsidizing cattle feed) may facilitate positive attitudes, should incidents of conflict increase. To investigate potential drivers of cattle depredation in Yala, we used GLMs to test the importance of hypothesised explanatory variables, specifically: native prey availability, cattle husbandry, number of cattle, distance from national park, road density and pastoralist residency time. Model results indicated that depredation frequency increased with the number of cattle and decreased with improved husbandry. Survey responses suggested that stronger cattle enclosures using plastic and light deterrents were husbandry techniques most supported by pastoralists. We recommend testing their efficacy and feasibility. This thesis illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary research to better inform human-carnivore coexistence grounded in the local context.

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