Other Large Mammals
Megaherbivores and large ungulates
Megaherbivores play critical roles in tropical ecosystems. Indian forest and grassland ecosystems support high densities and large population sizes of three such megaherbivores: Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), Indian one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and gaur (Bos frontalis). Our work has largely focussed on the estimation of ecological densities and biomasses, and various methodological issues related to monitoring populations of these species in India, producing some of the first benchmark estimates in southern, central and eastern India. Additionally, recent work by the WCS – India has focussed on assessing ecological and anthropogenic factors that determine patterns of landscape level occurrence of gaur.
The Indian sub-continent supports a wide variety of other ungulates some with large distributional ranges and others restricted to a few small populations. Cervids such as sambar (Rusa unicolor), chital (Axis axis), muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) and Indian chevrotain (Moschiola meminna) are widespread and found in a wide variety of habitats across India. Bovids include antelopes such as the chowsingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), chinkara (Gazella bennettii) and the blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), while suids are represented by wild pig (Sus scrofa) and pygmy hog (Sus salvanius).
WCS – India has conducted an immense amount of research and published several papers on ungulate species across India. Our methodological work includes pioneering advances in the development and refinement of techniques to estimate population parameters of forest ungulates (including field and analytical protocols for distance sampling-based density estimation in forests), density estimation using occurrence data and the development of hierarchical modelling approaches to assess factors determining ungulate densities. The resulting estimates of population parameters from these field studies have also supported large scale ongoing monitoring of ungulate populations over time and space, assessments of how large carnivores select prey depending on the availability of different species, investigations of how ungulate densities determine tiger densities, and other such questions with immediate applications to the conservation and monitoring of ungulates in India.
Through courses, workshops and technical manuals, we have widely disseminated our findings to enable conservation scientists worldwide to reliably estimate population parameters. In addition to these projects carried out directly by the program, we have supported additional research projects. These include development of novel non-invasive sampling techniques to estimate chital densities and fawn survival rates, factors affecting the occupancy of the chowsingha, assessing ungulate abundance using camera trap sampling in forests, demographic and behavioural responses of bharal (Pseudois nayaur) to livestock grazing, assessing the potential of dry forests to support tiger populations through occupancy sampling and distance sampling of ungulates and habitat use by the Indian chevrotains.