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Title: Interactions of large felids with their prey and humans in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and Belize
Author: Pina Covarrubias, Evelyn
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 1463
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2019
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Tropical-forest biodiversity is currently undergoing an unprecedented mass extinction caused by human exploitation of natural resources, and fragmentation and loss of forest habitat in conversion to human uses. Felids (wild cats) are particularly vulnerable because of their requirements for contiguous tracts of forest. This thesis addresses the status and value to human wellbeing of natural capital associated with felids that have biotic boundaries extending beyond the boundaries of areas designated for their protection. The principal aim is to evaluate locally viable conservation options for minimising human-wildlife conflict, in relation to populations of jaguars and pumas and their prey that occupy discontinuous areas of protected forest interspersed with farmland. Chapter 1 introduces the general context and background to this issue. Chapter 2 uses empirical data from systematic surveys by camera-trapping and scat sampling to estimate the availability of prey to jaguars and pumas in and between two small private nature reserves in the Northern Yucatán Peninsula. The chapter delivers the first sex-specific estimate of jaguar abundance in the area. It evaluates presence and abundance of potential prey for jaguars and pumas, and associations between daily activity patterns of jaguars and pumas with their prey. It quantifies jaguar and puma diets, and assesses prey exploitation and niche overlap. Chapter 3 uses questionnaire surveys to evaluate human-wildlife interactions between Maya communities and large felids. It includes a first assessment of perceptions about wildlife, hunting and wild meat consumption in the Northern Yucatán Peninsula. The chapter delivers an evaluation of livestock management practices, wild-meat consumption, hunting habits and experiences of human-wildlife conflict. Chapter 4 addresses the need to monitor cryptic sources of human exploitation of natural forest resources in the Yucatán Peninsula. The chapter describes the development and testing of a probabilistic method for near-optimal placement of acoustic loggers to detect and localise gunshots. Field tests in Mexico and Belize demonstrate for the first time the potential for flooding large areas of forest with small and low-cost acoustic devices to monitor rates of hunting activity. Chapter 5 delivers a synthesis of general conclusions from the study. Within the Northern Yucatán Peninsula, jaguars and pumas were found to have largely overlapping resource niches and activity patterns, consistent with a lack of options for niche separation in this heavily human modified and disturbed habitat. There was little evidence of declines in their populations with respect to earlier studies, despite ongoing habitat fragmentation. The viability of these large felids depends entirely on their ability to sustain access to prey in unprotected forests between nature reserves, as well as effective protection of prey in the reserves. Maya communities report a generally reducing availability of game - which are also prey to large felids - in the unprotected forests. They also report attacks by large felids on their livestock which, although infrequent, have potential to inflict severe economic injury. Hunters attributed a lack of game to overhunting in unprotected forests, and expressed a desire for support on this issue. The recent development of low-cost and power-efficient acoustic loggers opens up new potential for rural communities to monitor rates of hunting and logging, as a first step to policing their own natural resources.
Supervisor: Eigenbrod, Felix Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available