Using epidemiology to understand patterns of big cat attacks

Our paper about using epidemiological techniques to better understand big cat attacks in Tanzania and India is now out in the Journal of Applied Ecology:

This is one of the most rewarding papers I have been involved with (and my first last author paper!).  Attacks on humans represent not only a public health concern but also a major conservation challenge to these species.  We really wanted to know (i) if patterns of attacks were species-specific, and (ii) in what landscapes were clusters of attacks found in?  To address these questions,  we were able to assemble long-term man-eating attack data for leopards, lions and tigers from two continents and used spatio-temporal models to look for clusters of attacks in space and time. We found that lion clusters were larger, involved more human fatalities and occurred over longer periods of time compared to leopards and tigers. This possibly indicates that, as lions form social groups called prides, the idea of eating humans may be ‘transmitted’ amongst pride mates making attacks last longer. Most lions get killed post-attack so it is not the same individual committing all of the attacks. These attack clusters did not happen randomly in the landscape either with residential woodlands being particularly high risk for attack clusters. Tree loss was also important for lion attacks with attacks more common in areas with recent forest loss.

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We hope that approaches such as this one can be used to better manage and understand attacks not just of these species, but others as well. We used SatScan to do the analysis and provide some easy to follow instructions that allow users to conduct this type of analysis themselves. Plus SatScan is freely available which is always good.

Big thanks to Craig Packer for getting the data together and making this happen.

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