Diet selection of snow leopard (Panthera uncia) in Chitral, Pakistan


Abstract: Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is an elusive endangered carnivore found in remote mountain regions of Central Asia, with sparse distribution in northern Pakistan, including Chitral and Baltistan. The present study determined the food habits of snow leopard, including preferred prey species and seasonal variation in diet. Fifty-six scat samples were collected and analyzed to determine the diet composition in two different seasons, i.e. summer and winter. Hair characteristics such as cuticular scale patterns and medullary structure were used to identify the prey. This evidence was further substantiated from the remains of bones, claws, feathers, and other undigested remains found in the scats. A total of 17 prey species were identified; 5 of them were large mammals, 6 were mesomammals, and the remaining 6 were small mammals. The occurrence of wild ungulates (10.4%) in the diet was low, while livestock constituted a substantial part (26.4%) of the diet, which was higher in summer and lower in winter. Mesomammals altogether comprised 33.4% of the diet, with palm civet (Paguma larvata) as a dominant (16.8%) species, followed by golden marmot (Marmota caudate) (8.8%), which was higher in winter. There was a significant difference in seasonal variation in domestic livestock and small mammals. The livestock contribution of 26.4% observed in the present study indicates a significant dependence of the population on livestock and suggests that the study area is expected to be a high-conflict area for snow leopards. The results of the current study would help improve the conservation efforts for snow leopards, contributing to conflict resolution and effective management of this endangered cat.

Keywords: Snow leopard, conservation, seasonal variation, diet composition, Chitral, Pakistan

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