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Research Article

Big Cats in Our Backyards: Persistence of Large Carnivores in a Human Dominated Landscape in India

  • Vidya Athreya mail,

    vidya.athreya@gmail.com

    Affiliation: Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

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  • Morten Odden,

    Affiliation: Faculty of Applied Ecology and Agricultural Sciences, Hedmark University College, Campus Evenstad, Elverum, Norway

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  • John D. C. Linnell,

    Affiliation: Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway

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  • Jagdish Krishnaswamy,

    Affiliation: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. Karnataka, India

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  • Ullas Karanth

    Affiliation: Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

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  • Published: March 06, 2013
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057872

Reader Comments (2)

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A great study in half

Posted by JayMazoomdaar on 30 Mar 2013 at 20:52 GMT

While offering vital clues to conflict resolution, the paper makes a few unsupported claims.
The population data presented in the paper establishes that leopards can live in sugarcane fields (study site).
The paper then refers to unpublished data on low conflict. This establishes the leopard's adaptability including its tolerance of human presence. As an extension of this, the paper rightly claims that leopards, unless subject to random management interventions, are not necessarily a threat to human safety.
At this point, the paper shifts to human aspects of the issue and makes a series of unsupported claims, starting with "“This study shows that leopards can persist in the human-modified landscapes and is possibly dependent mainly on the social tolerance.”
There is nothing in the paper to indicate any degree of social tolerance. Low instances of conflict does not necessarily indicate high social tolerance. To ascertain that, one needs to estimate the frequency of human-leopard interface at a place and what percentage of these interfaces triggers conflict.
For example, leopards and humans may come face to face 100 times a day in a 100 sq km area A and get into conflict only on 15 occasions. In an equivalent area B, the number of face-offs may be as low as 10 a day with 5 incidents of conflict. While A (15 cases) certainly sees more conflict than B (5 cases), it is also more tolerant (15% against B’s 50%).
In this context, the paper also fails identify (or even the necessity to identify) the factors responsible for low conflict in the study area. This is surprising since the paper reports high conflict almost everywhere else. In a strange coincidence, the paper also fails to elaborate on the nature of the study area: sugarcane plants offers dense cover and the crop is harvested in batches at long intervals, ensuring months of uninterrupted privacy. Better cover possibly means fewer chances of exposure during passive day hours and therefore less instances of conflict.
Only if there is reliable data on the frequency of human-leopard encounters in sugarcane fields, a comparative study in a non-sugarcane cropland may explain how a reduction in cover affects the intensity of conflict – and the density of leopards – outside PAs.
Till such studies are conducted, singling out either tolerance or quality of vegetation cover or any third factor as the "main" reason for the high leopard density and low conflict in the study area is uncalled for. But the paper harps on, almost ideologically, on the merits and potential of social tolerance without bothering to define, establish or quantify it in the first place.
One hopes subsequent studies by this very able scientists will look into these issues more objectively. But the claims made in the present paper indicate that most conclusions may have already been drawn.
For my detailed take: http://www.firstpost.com/...
Best

Competing interests declared: I am an independent journalist and deal with environment, conservation and rights issues. I have written on the subject of human-leopard conflict and specifically on this paper in the mainstream Indian media. I don't have any competing interest here other than in facts. But for the record, let me declare that the lead author has accused me of distorting the claims made in this paper and I have denied the charge. For more: jaymazoomdaar@gmail.com

RE: A great study in half

vathreya replied to JayMazoomdaar on 31 Mar 2013 at 01:31 GMT

The journalist has misrepresented my statements in his two articles for which I write a letter of complaint to the editor. The comments have been made in detail in the two web pages where his articles have come. I see no reason to respond in detail here. thank you.

Competing interests declared: I had complained about the articles to the editor where the articles have been written as well as posted my responses on the web page of the second article because they have been written without a good understanding of the issue nor without other references nor citing other scientists from India or abroad who have worked on large felids or conflict issues. Therefore the above posting is unlikely to be unbiased.

RE: RE: A great study in half

JayMazoomdaar replied to vathreya on 31 Mar 2013 at 11:50 GMT

Dr Athreya refused to answer the concerns raised in my comment above in the two webpages she mentioned. Whether my observation is biased or not can be ascertain from my comment (above) itself. But her refusal to defend the claim made in the paper that "“This study shows that leopards can persist in the human-modified landscapes and is possibly dependent mainly on the social tolerance.” perhaps confirms my observation that there is nothing in the study to defend it. Otherwise, a specific question/objection would have been answered in specific terms. Thank you.

Competing interests declared: I am an independent journalist and deal with environment, conservation and rights issues. I have written on the subject of human-leopard conflict and specifically on this paper in the mainstream Indian media. I don't have any competing interest here other than in facts. But for the record, let me declare that the lead author has accused me of distorting the claims made in this paper and I have denied the charge. For more: jaymazoomdaar@gmail.com

RE: RE: RE: A great study in half

uncia replied to JayMazoomdaar on 01 Apr 2013 at 09:27 GMT

The journalist in question (Jay) and I have been exchanging emails regarding this in a different forum. My main contention is that his objections follow from a deductive reasoning of the paper's findings and his own ontological and epistemological assumptions, which remain unspecified but implicit in his articles. The paper on the other hand explores potential explanations for its findings using induction, which is justified in the context of similar research elsewhere. The paper's line of reasoning makes sense given the complexity of the relationship and opens up space for critiques, debates, counter arguments on the implications of the study and its potential explanations.

These discussions would be far more constructive for the authors and the journal, if comments focused on the main findings of the paper and its theoretical framework, rather than be based on an ideological difference of how to frame arguments, while the ignoring implicit assumptions that we all make.when confronted with a seemingly counter-intuitive research paper.

Competing interests declared: While I have carried out primary research in the area discussed in this paper, I have not derived any financial benefits from the research on which this paper is based and have not contributed to it in any manner. I am commenting to voice concern on the misrepresentation of research findings in popular media based on implicit assumptions regarding processes of reasoning and ontological/epistemological frameworks.

RE: RE: RE: RE: A great study in half

JayMazoomdaar replied to uncia on 05 Apr 2013 at 12:30 GMT

In her response above, the author tries to influence PLOS to edit/blackout inconvenient comments. She also goes on a self-congratulatory mode by declaring her paper "counter-intuitive" when the only finding of her paper is a set of population data obtained by setting up a few camera-traps at a non-standard sampling area. By non-standard, I do not mean non-PA but a sugarcane landscape which is an exceptional non-PA habitat.
On the real issue raised by me above, Dr Athreya says "The paper on the other hand explores potential explanations for its findings using induction..." That's exactly my point. She offers only one explanation, not potential explanations as she claims, in the discussion where the paper singles out tolerance to fit its ideological position.
Anyway, let me not inconvenience her further because I trust the readers have got enough here to reach their own conclusions. Thank you.

Competing interests declared: I have continued on this thread to highlight how Dr Athreya charges one with misrepresentation for questioning her paper. I am an independent journalist and deal with environment, conservation and rights issues. I have written on the subject of human-leopard conflict and specifically on this paper in the mainstream Indian media. I don't have any competing interest here other than in facts. For more: jaymazoomdaar@gmail.com