The Presence of Tigers Near Villages can Reduce Crop and Livestock Losses

A new study found that the presence of tigers can have unexpected benefits for rural villagers in Bhutan. Tiger by Heather Smithers. CC BY-SA 2.0

A groundbreaking study was just released in the journal Biological Conservation. Written by Thinley et al. (2018), it deals with the ecosystem services provided by tigers (Panthera tigris) to villagers in Bhutan. The authors found strong evidence that the presence of tigers near villages can limit both crop and livestock losses.

At its core, this study is about how different “guilds” (sizes) of predators interact with one another. Thinley et al.’s (2018) study area consisted of Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) in Northwestern Bhutan. This ecologically rich landscape contains multiple species of predator, including: leopards (Panthera pardus), dholes (Cuon alpinus), and tigers.

Both leopards and dholes (a type of wild dog) are considered to be medium-sized predators within JDNP. As such, they are both less dominant than the much larger tigers. This is a key element in Thinley et al.’s (2018) findings.

This is what a dhole looks like. Dhole by Bikash Das. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

To obtain their results, Thinley et al. (2018) instructed villagers to report all crop and livestock losses to the local authorities. At the same time, the researchers used a variety of methods to survey for predators in and around villages. They found several interesting patterns.

When a tiger was present near a village, it tended to favor the thicker forests on the outskirts of the settlement. This pushed leopards and dholes closer to the village, in an attempt to avoid the tiger. This was important for two primary reasons.

Having leopards and dholes near villages was good for crops, since they preyed on the herbivores that were responsible for most crop losses. Perhaps unexpectedly, it was also good for livestock.

Villagers in and around JDNP usually allowed their livestock to graze unattended in the forests outside villages – where the tigers were. While tigers did prey on livestock, they did so less frequently than leopards and dholes. So by keeping the latter two mesopredators (medium-sized predators) away from livestock, tigers actually performed a valuable service for local villagers.

This service was not insignificant. Thinley et al. (2018) estimated that having tigers around could save villagers up to US $1,570 every year. Based on 2014 figures, “This represents a very substantial rural household saving in Bhutan which is 70% of the average per capita income” (Thinley et al., 2018, p. 124).

Thinley et al.’s (2018) findings have important implications. They suggest that in addition to having immense cultural value and helping to regulate ecosystem functions, the presence of tigers can have economic benefits for rural villagers in Bhutan. I wonder if the same is true for other areas, and for more species than tigers? Could the presence of wolves (Canis lupus), for example, exert similar pressures on coyotes (Canis latrans) as tigers did on leopards and dholes?

Could other apex predators, such as wolves, perform similar ecological services as tigers in Bhutan? FT5A4779 by Captain Smurf. CC BY-ND 2.0

Regardless of the answer to my musings, Thinley et. al’s (2018) study is most fascinating. I have included a link to the study in the “Further Reading” section below, along with a detailed news article about it.

Further Reading:

The ecological benefit of tigers (Panthera tigris)  to farmers in reducing crop and livestock losses in the eastern Himalayas: Implications for conservation of large apex predators – Phuntsho Thinley et al.

The Surprising Ways Tigers Benefit Farmers and Livestock Owners – John R. Platt

9 Thoughts

  1. Thank you for your piece and references. I would love to see a tiger. Everything needs to be in balance doesn’t it? And we are doing our best it seems prevent ecological balance. The dholes are interesting too – very communicative apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Natural systems evolved over millions of years, with each species filling out a niche that helps to keep the ecological web intact. The massive changes we’re causing, including the clearing out of apex predators, are threatening the integrity of that web – to the point that our future isn’t certain either.

      And while I don’t know much about dholes, I’d assume that they’re pretty communicative. They are canids after all, and they live in packs. Anyone who’s owned a dog will know how communicative social canines can be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dholes whistle apparently, very interesting behaviour but yes essentially pack dogs. Yes I agree with you on the future of mankind if we continue to live as we do now. So many creatures becoming extinct and very little about it in the news.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. According to the study having tigers around can paradoxically reduce conflict, due to the way they affect leopard and dhole dynamics. When tigers were near villages, leopards and dholes didn’t attack livestock as often – and it would seem that the latter two species are more frequent predators of livestock than tigers. Because leopards and dholes avoided the forests where the tigers and livestock were, they more frequently preyed on wild herbivores that damaged villagers’ crops. So, according to the study, not killing tigers could reduce livestock predation and crop losses for Indian villagers.

      However, all this is probably conditional on how much conflict there is around a village – and what type of conflict we’re dealing with. It seems like this study only addressed conflicts involving livestock and crop damage, and not harm to human life.

      Like

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