Via Kate Shaw at Ars Technica:
We don’t necessarily need to separate human and animal populations to protect them from each other, if the adaptations of tigers in a Nepal nature reserve show us anything.
Biologists from Michigan State University set up 80 or so automatic cameras around Chitwan national park, a Bengal Tiger habitat, hoping to record the animal’s schedule.
The cameras captured not just tiger activity, but also humans who live in and near the park. Analyzing the video revealed that both human and tiger used the same paths and populated the same areas.
The two groups rarely crossed paths, however, because the tigers adapted their schedule to avoid human activity (the humans, interestingly, didn’t adapt to the tigers). The scientists observed the tigers altering their behavior to be most active in the pre-dawn hours and very early morning. The humans weren’t as likely to be on the footpaths and in the surrounding forest then, preferring to be out and about later in the day.
The evidence is inconclusive. But it suggests that strict, human-free nature reserves, which can be politically difficult to establish, aren’t necessarily the only way to limit destructive interaction between people and beasts. They just have to adapt to each other, and take turns using a habitat. Writes Shaw:
Surprisingly, tiger density was not any higher inside the park, where human activity is limited, than it was outside the park, where human use is much more frequent. Furthermore, tiger density and human use of the area appear to be much higher in the Chitwan area than they are in other parts of the tigers’ range. Here, the two species appear to be able to coexist, and in fact thrive, in each others’ presence.
Was this just a happy accident? The researchers found that tiger population density didn’t change during the period studied, though tiger activity during peak human traffic times in Chitwan park decreased by 17 percent. That suggests there weren’t fewer tigers in the park over the course of the study. Rather, the biologists concluded that a stable number of tigers had figured out when to lie low.
The lack of interaction meant a lower likelihood of tigers attacking humans, and humans turning tigers into rugs, trophies and quack cures for erectile disfunction.