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New Study Reveals How Scarce Food Must Be for Big Cats To Kill Livestock

Every outdoor enthusiast worth their salt knows that when other food sources aren’t available, big cats kill livestock.

What kind of big cats are we talking about? Well, lions, tigers, pumas, cheetahs, snow leopards, jaguars, you name it. These carnivores in particular are cited as hazards to livestock, but this new study released from Biological Conservation details the index of wild prey biomass that leads these cats to move to livestock, such as cattle, goats, and sheep.

A German university recently put together a team of researchers to determine just how low the wild prey index must reach before big cats move to killing other viable options of food. The central point of study was “at what prey levels attacks on livestock are triggered,” and the team ended up with “107 studies spanning dozens of countries” that looked into wild prey density and livestock predation from 2004 to 2014.

The study found that cattle is typically the first to become new prey, and it is found to be very high when the biomass drops to 1,790 pounds per .4 square miles. They require less energy for these cats to take down, which then results in a higher energy level, enabling the cats to kill more cattle at once than other types of livestock.

However, the cats move outward from cattle predation when the biomass drops to 1,1999 pounds per .4 square miles and begin to hunt sheep and goats. All of the big cats, except for tigers, are found to want to kill sheep and goats when the prey mess dwindles that far.

To confirm their findings, the team then mapped out known prey biomass in a comparison with actual livestock predation, and found that the predictions they had made were indeed reliable. Some areas, specifically in India, Nepal, and South Africa, contain enough wild prey to sustain an overeager cat population, but in the other regions sampled, “the probability of livestock predation is moderate to high.”

The bottom line to this study is big cats that are skillful predators cannot survive when prey biomass drops to a certain level, an event that is caused by many natural events, ranging from overpopulation in cats to unsuitable mating conditions for prey populations.

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New Study Reveals How Scarce Food Must Be for Big Cats To Kill Livestock