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The Role of Dispersal in Structuring the Chitwan Tiger Population

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Dispersal in tigers was studied in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Thirty six adult and young were studied to monitor movements and social interactions relative to dispersal. Fourteen subadults were followed from before their dispersal until they died or established post-dispersal territories. Subadult tigers became semi-independent of their mother when her next litter was born. They usually remained within her natal area until the subsequent litter began to move with her at about 2 mos of age. Animals dispersed between 19 and 28 mos. Males dispersed farther than females and settled in poorer habitat. Three of 4 females settled adjacent to their mothers; in two cases the mother shifted her territory allowing the daughter to take over a large portion of the mother's former territory. Wounds on young prior to dispersal indicated that aggression prompted dispersal. Fjghts were observed between dispersers and residents. After fights, dispersers always left the resident's area. All 4 dispersing females established breeding territories. Females settled next to their mothers tending to reduce the genetic variance of a male's offspring. Eight of 10 males became localized in temporary, post-dispersal territories; 4 of the 8 survived. Two males died of poisoning and 2 from intrasexual aggression. Surviving males either expanded temporary territories or shifted to new areas to establish breeding territories. The Chitwan tigers are an isolated remnant of a population once continuous across the lowlands of Nepal. Effective population size was estimated to be <30 animals. Tigers did not disperse across cultivated areas but did travel through degraded forest habitat. No animal dispersed outside the Chitwan region and there appear to be effective barriers separating Chitwan from the two nearest populations 150 and 250 kms distant. The Chitwan population is probably one of the largest tiger populations remaining in the world. Isolation and small size threaten these populations with stochastic events that may lead to further reduction in population size.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, 200 Hodson Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, U.S.A.

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