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PERCEPTUAL ASPECTS OF LEOPARD RECOGNITION BY WILD BONNET MACAQUES (MACACA RADIATA)

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This study examined the perceptual features of leopards (Panthera pardus) used as recognition cues by bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata) at three sites in southern India. Two of these sites were protected deciduous forest areas, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. The third study site was a predator-rare urban setting, Bangalore city. Four models were presented for 10-s intervals: (1) upright spotted leopard in a stalking profile with its head facing the subjects; (2) the same spotted model presented upside down; (3) a dark-brown leopard model with the same configuration as the spotted model; and finally (4), the dark-brown model presented upside down. The upright models characterized the two leopard morphs found in the wild — spotted and dark melanic. Inverted presentations of the spotted model examined the effects of the same configuration in an incongruous position to document whether leopard spots were still recognized. Differences between models were examined using alarm calls and flight elicitation as indices of fear. The spotted upright model was found to be the most feared, followed by the spotted upside-down model, the dark upright model, and finally the dark upside-down model. Analysis of when individuals looked at troop members to assess risks revealed that the spotted upright and dark upside-down models engendered significantly lower frequencies of information seeking; the upright model typically engendered immediate flight and the dark upside-down model was generally ignored. The spotted upside-down model and the dark upright model engendered high rates of information seeking. These results appeared to reflect the importance of both spots and felid configuration in leopard recognition. Lower responsiveness to the dark upright model might reflect lack of experience with this rare melanic form.

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