Cats And Coyotes Divvy Up The Chicago Suburbs

coyoteI’ve been to Chicago and the surrounding area plenty of times, but I never thought to look for coyotes. I hadn’t realized that the animals have been expanding their territory over the last several hundred years, and they can now be found in many U.S. and Canadian cities, including Chicago. In many of these areas, coyotes are now the largest carnivores, at the top of the food web. And that might be affecting some of the animals we are more familiar with.

Urban coyotes have a varied diet, consisting mostly of small rodents, white-tailed deer, fruit (carnivores aren’t strictly meat eaters), bunnies and birds. They also eat a small number of cats, which led a group of scientists who are studying urban coyotes in the Chicago area to look into how coyotes and feral cats interact in the city’s suburbs. The results of their study appear in PLOS ONE.

feralcatBetween February 2008 and September 2009, the researchers captured 43 cats in eight sites in the suburbs west of Chicago. They then took blood samples from the cats and fitted 39 with radiocollars (two cats were thought to be pets, one was too small for the collar, and one was so sick it was euthanized). Getting good data from the cats was difficult: A fifth of the cats died during the study period, a quarter were adopted, 13 percent had collars that didn’t last until the end of the study, 10 percent were never heard from again, and, in what is the most mysterious statement in the study, 23 percent “were removed from the system by cat advocates opposed to our research.” Despite the difficulties, however, the researchers were able to get good tracking data for a number of kitties, enough to map out several cats’ home ranges and plot them against the ranges of coyotes in the urban coyote project.

The cats and coyotes, the researchers found, did overlap a bit in their travels, but for the most part, cats stuck to areas around homes and buildings. The coyotes, in contrast, preferred natural habitats away from human development. “Coyotes in our system appear to inhibit cat use of the natural habitat fragments through a combination of predation and cat avoidance of coyote activity,” the researchers conclude. “It is clear the two species are largely separated across the metropolitan area.”

This is only a small study, but the team speculates that coyotes may be controlling the feral cat population throughout the Chicago area, keeping the cats out of the fragments of natural habitat that dot the suburbs. If the pattern holds in other areas, then in regions where coyotes can be found, the ecological impacts of cats (that is, the cats’ killing of birds and other native wildlife) might be overestimated. Cats have gained a reputation for being evil murderers that devastate wildlife, but we’re finding that the story is far more complicated. And its one that needs to be better elucidated.

Images courtesy of flickr users John Picken (Chicago coyote, top) and cats marcoff (Chicago feral cat, bottom)

The Iberian Lynx Is Doomed — Maybe


The world’s most endangered cat is not the lion or cheetah or tiger; it’s the Iberian lynx. Already at risk for a number of reasons I’ll get into below, a new study from Nature Climate Change predicts that the lynx could be extinct by 2060, driven off the planet by anthropogenic climate change.

As its name suggests, the Iberian lynx belongs on the Spanish-Portuguese peninsula, where it exists in a few isolated places in southwestern Spain and perhaps Portugal (though no one really knows). The IUCN estimates the lynx population at a mere 84 to 143 adult cats; recent counts suggest there may be as many as 250 of these kitties. Even the high number is a pretty small population — thus, the classification as Critically Endangered.

The lynx’s habitat has shrunk from 15,700 square miles in the 1950s to just 460 square miles, estimated in 2005. Like its North American counterpart, the Iberian lynx depends on rabbit for sustenance, but the cats’ bunny meal, the European rabbit, has gone through a major decline because of disease, hunting, and habitat loss. The lynx have also suffered from people trapping and poaching them, and hitting them with cars. (Generally cars and wild cats do not mix well.)

The good news for the lynx is that they have a lot of fans and conservation efforts have been well funded. There have been captive breeding programs, work towards restoring their bunny prey, and other efforts to make the world more friendly to the Iberian lynx, all in the hope that the cat population can grow larger, or at least not die out.

The problem, say researchers in the new study, is that none of these plans account for climate change. When they created a computer model of the lynx and rabbit populations that included the expected alterations to temperature and precipitation, they discovered that the lynx would die out within the next 50 years.

“Our models show that the anticipated climate change will lead to a rapid and dramatic decline of the Iberian lynx and probably eradicate the species within 50 years, in spite of the present-day conservation efforts. The only two populations currently present will not be able to spread out or adapt to the changes in time,” coauthor Miguel Araújo, an ecologist at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

All hope is not lost yet, though. If policymakers incorporate climate change into their plans for the lynx, the cats can survive, the scientists say. If climate change were considered in the planning of reintroduction efforts, those efforts could result in there being as many as 900 Iberian lynx by 2090.

The establishment of wildlife corridors along climate pathways might also help. The research team cautions, however, that the immediate nature of the threat, high costs of the corridor creation, and the fact that translocating lynx is technically feasible means that it’s probably easier to just move the cats rather than try to get them to move on their own through a corridor.

“The risk of extinction faced by Iberian lynx within the next 50 years is high,” the researchers write. But with good planning, extinction of the lynx might still be avoided.


Images Credit: Hector Garrido, CSIC Andalusia Audiovisual Bank, via EurekAlert

The Gene That Gives One Breed Of Cat A Curly Coat


Depending on how cat mad you are, you’ve probably never seen a Selkirk rex kitty, let alone seen or held one. They’re not a popular breed — far less than the Persian (b, in the picture above) or the Scottish fold (c) — but their main feature is a curly coat (a, left). The curly trait is dominant, so about a quarter of any Selkirk rex litter will be the less-wanted straight-hair variety (a, right).

The Selkirk rex is a very new breed, having been developed after a curly-coated (aka rex) mutation arose in a cat in 1987. There have been about 8.4 generations of these kitties, which have been outbred to British shorthairs, exotic shorthairs and Persians to establish the breed (without too much inbreeding).

Though scientists (and breeders) have known that the curly trait is dominant, they hadn’t been able to find the responsible gene. The latest — and successful — attempt comes from a team led by Barbara Gandolfi at the University of California Davis. They published their results in Scientific Reports.

The team looked at the genes of nine curly coated Selkirk rex cats and 29 control kitties, a group that included Persians, British shorthairs and straight-haired Selkirk rex cats. The cats may look different, but they all belong to a big group of related kitties known as the “Persian family.” Gandolfi’s team eventually traced the curly trait to a gene KRT71 — they’re not sure exactly what the gene does, but they know it has something to do with the development of the hair follicle (not exactly surprising).

KRT71 had been ruled out as the curly coat gene in the Selkirk rex in an earlier study that looked at curly-coated cats of several breeds, but it seems that the Selkirk rex in that study was a straight-haired cat, so the researchers would have never been able to find a curly coat gene in it. That study did find, though, that various mutations in KRT71 produced curly hair in the Devon rex breed and the naked look of the sphinx cat.

What else might mutations in this gene produce? Scientists still have a couple more curly-haired breeds to check out — the LaPerm and the American wirehair. Perhaps they’re KRT71 mutants as well.

Photos by Barbara Gandolfi, via Creative Commons license: Gandolfi, B. et al. A splice variant in KRT71 is associated with curly coat phenotype of Selkirk Rex cats. Sci. Rep. 3, 2000; DOI:10.1038/srep02000 (2013).

Predatory Life On The Savanna Is Complicated (Unless You’re A Lion)


In a simple system, there’s a predator and its prey; the predator roams wherever the prey is found. Add in more predator and prey species, and where the predators live should be decided by what they eat. Real life, though, is not that simple. Just look at this new study published online by Ecology of four predator species in South Africa.

An international group of researchers studied an 85-square-kilometer, fenced-in region of South African savanna — the Karongwe Game Reserve. In this area there are four main predator species: lions, cheetahs, leopards, and wild dogs. These predators hunt 12 different ungulate species, mostly impala, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, Burchell’s zebra, warthog, and giraffe.

To figure out where the predators were going and what they were doing, many of the adults of each of the four species were outfitted with VHF transmitters during the study period of 2001 to 2005. The distributions of the prey species were determined by aerial surveys and sampling in the wet and dry seasons (respectively, November to March and April to October).

All that data was then combined. The patterns and interactions of the various species are complex, but there were definite patterns:

Lions: The big cats (above), as might be expected, are the dominant predators in this environment. That power gives them unrestricted access to pretty much anything they want. They go where the best and most vulnerable prey can be found and where they’ve got the best cover for hunting. They don’t worry about where other predator species are. Even the season doesn’t affect them much.

Leopards: These cats overlap in range with lions — the best prey is found where the lions live — but they avoid the much-bigger cats. They also avoid each other. In this area at least, the biggest killer of leopards is other leopards. And during the dry season, when it’s easier to see through parched vegetation and the risk of detection by other cats is higher, leopards find it safest to move towards the smaller wild dogs.


Cheetahs: Like leopards, these spotted cats (above) are also smaller than lions, and it would be expected that they would also avoid the big cats. But, like the leopards, their range overlaps with the lions. And in the wet season, these cats tended to actually move towards locations where lions were recently roaming. The researchers theorize that cheetahs may be using other tactics to avoid lions, such as by choosing habitats, like woodlands, that the bigger cats don’t use, or being active when lions aren’t. Staying near the lions, and their high-quality prey, proved beneficial; some cheetahs were able to take down large prey like wildebeest instead of having to stick with smaller meals. But just because the cheetahs were comfortable venturing into lion territory doesn’t mean that they were entirely fearless; these cats generally stayed away from leopards.

Wild dogs: The African wild dogs — the smallest of the predators — tended to avoid all three of the cat species, but they behaved differently depending on the season. In dry times, when they could be more easily seen, the wild dogs stayed away from the other carnivores’ activity centers. In the wet season, though, when there was more cover available, they took a little more risk and only avoided areas where the other species had been recently. Constrained as they were by the movements of the other predators as well as the boundary fence they could not cross, the wild dogs had to settle for prey species they did not prefer.

The researchers’ take-away message from all these interactions is that for subordinate carnivores like the cheetahs, leopards, and wild dogs, competition with other predators can matter more than what they eat. Because if you have to eat an impala instead of a wildebeest, or even wait another day for a hearty meal, being hungry is better than getting mauled to death by another predator.

Images courtesy of flickr user Jean-Louis A

Tiger, Tiger, Brilliant White

tigersWhite tigers, despite the name, aren’t all white. These variants of the Bengal tiger are white with black or dark brown stripes, and they also have blue eyes, pink paw pads and a pink nose. They’re not true albinos, but they’re rare. Really rare. As in, none have been seen in the wild since 1958. All the known white tigers in the world live in captivity, usually zoos.

What strips the orange stripes out of these tigers? A team of researchers led by Xiao Xu of Peking University in Beijing, reporting this week in Current Biology, examined tiger genes and found that a single amino acid change — a simple switch of one chemical piece of a protein — resulting from a mutation in the gene SLC45A2 is responsible for the white color. When a tiger has two copies of that mutated gene, it can’t produce the pigment pheomelanin that gives the cat its orange fur.

Alterations to that gene underlie similar color changes in cream-colored horses and silver chickens. The same mutation in the gene has even been found once in a human, in a German who had pale skin and dark blonde hair.

The researchers think that the mutation, which they unsurprisingly named white, evolved just once in the wild Bengal tiger population. That mutation slowly spread through the tiger’s descendents and created the occasional white tiger. The animals were spotted infrequently in India from the 1500s until 1958, when the last wild white tiger was shot. But these variants have survived in modern menageries.

White tigers are mythical, romantic creatures, which might account for why they’ve been heavily bred in some zoos, notably the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, in recent decades. But some have argued that white tigers should be allowed to die out. Here’s what Slate had to say in December:

On the face of it, being a white object in the Bengal tigers’ tropical habitat of India and Southeast Asia can’t be good for a predator that needs to be camouflaged. Other, more subtle problems that go along with the white coat would also prevent white tigers from ever becoming established as a wild population. The mutation (which is not albinism—white tigers can still produce melanin) also causes serious defects. White tigers in captivity tend to have problems with the way that their brains control their eyes and process visual stimulation. The animals are often cross-eyed in one or both eyes, bump into objects, and have trouble understanding spatial relationships when they are young. Animals with defects like these couldn’t survive for long in the wild, even though they have long lives in captivity. Other disorders, such as kidney problems, club feet, and shortened tendons, come from the severe inbreeding required to keep this recessive gene around.

But the new study knocks down several of these arguments. Over the years, the researchers write, many of the white tigers that were captured or killed were mature adults, so lacking the orange-and-black camouflage couldn’t have been too much of a problem. And, inbreeding — not the white mutation itself — accounts for many of the health problems that modern white tigers face, including deformities, stillbirths and premature deaths, they say.

“Despite its low frequency, this polymorphism has persisted for at least several hundred years and should be considered a part of the genetic diversity that is worth conserving,” the scientists argue in their paper.

There’s still a question, however, of whether devoting scarce conservation resources to preserving a rare variant of a creature is worth it when the entire species is threatened with extinction. There may be as few as 3,000 of these cats left in the wild. Their habitat is shrinking. And they’re being devastated by the wildlife trade. With tigers facing threats like those, perhaps a dedicated program to preserving the white mutation is little more than a luxury, even if it could be done more responsibly, with less inbreeding.

After reading the new study, I wouldn’t call white tigers “freaks,” as William Conway, former director of the New York Zoological Association, once did. And I’ll watch in amazement should I encounter one in a zoo. But I won’t be sad if the current (in)breeding programs go away and the money and resources get redirected to other conservation efforts. Because all I want is the tiger, any tiger — white, orange, Siberian, Bengal, Sumatran, et cetera — to continue to survive.

Image credit: Chimelong Safari Park, via EurekAlert

Lions Are Not Tigers (And Neither Should Be Killed For Their Bones)


Tigers have lost more than 90 percent of their habitat and now number only about 3,200 cats in the wild. One of the biggest threats has been the wildlife trade — every part of the beautiful striped kitties is used in traditional “medicine.”

And now, says the Guardian, there are so few tigers that vendors have switched to lions, which are more numerous (though still vulnerable) and, conveniently, raised by the hundreds for perfectly legal trophy hunting in countries like South Africa:

After the kill [lion breeder Koos] Hermanus will be paid $10,000, but he can boost his earnings further by selling the lion’s bones to a Chinese dealer based in Durban. At $165 a kilo (an average figure obtained from several sources) the breeder will pocket something in the region of $5,000.

If his client does not want to keep the lion’s head as a trophy, the skull will fetch another $1,100. “If you put your money in the bank you get 8% interest,” he explains, “but at present lions show a 30% return.”

Some breeders are reportedly slaughtering their lions, without getting proper permits, just for the bones.

This legal market may be appalling, but it’s only half the trade in lion bones; the rest comes from poaching. Lions are under incredible pressure from the human population in Africa. According to a report last year from Panthera, lions have already lost 75 percent of their habitat, and another report from 2008 found that lion numbers had dropped by more than 75 percent.

A person can sympathize with people in Africa who kill lions because the cats are killing their livestock or, worse, members of the village. But to lose lions to superstitious nonsense is ridiculous. Tigers may be extinct by 2022 — will lions soon follow?

Image courtesy of flickr user Earth-touch Admin

Why Climate Change Could Be Bad News For Snowshoe Hares (And Lynx)

hareThe snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) has mastered the art of camouflage. In warm times, its coat is a muddled brown, easily blending into a background of trees, rocks, and dirt. As the days shorten and the temperatures begin to drop, it sheds its coat and grows a new one of snowy white, perfect for the snowy days sure to follow.

There’s been worry, however, that this well-honed system could fall apart under climate change: If winters get shorter and snowshoe hares don’t change the timing of their molts, they could be left vulnerable to predators, bright white targets on a brown background.

That worry may be well founded, according to a study published today by PNAS. Researchers from the University of Montana in Missoula and the University of Idaho in Moscow found that the timing of molts, both fall and spring, is tied to the length of day, and the snowshoe hares have no ability to change their fall molt and only a little for the spring.

They draw that conclusion from studying 148 snowshoe hares in the wild over three consecutive Montana winters from 2010 to 2012. Those winters were significant because they were very different and included one that was particularly long and another that was very short. That allowed the scientists to see if the hares adapted to changes in winter length.

The molt from brown to white in the fall was fixed, starting at the same time every year and taking 40 days to complete. In spring, there was a little change in 2011, the year of the really long winter, and the hares completed their transition back to brown 16 days later than in the other two years.

But when the researchers extrapolated from these three years to what may happen later this century, as temperatures rise and winters get shorter, they found that the number of days that snow-white hares can be found in brown landscapes would increase by fourfold by the middle of the century and eightfold by its end.

That’s definitely bad news for snowshoe hares, but it may also bode ill for the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis, not named particularly well since it’s also found in the United States). The ecology of lynx and snowshoe hares is intertwined, as Smithsonian reported a couple years ago:

The northern [Canada and Alaska] lynx population rises and falls according to the snowshoe hare’s boom-and-bust cycle. The hare population grows dramatically when there is plenty of vegetation, then crashes as the food thins out and predators (goshawks, bears, fox, coyotes and other animals besides lynx) become superabundant. The cycle repeats every ten years or so. The other predators can move on to different prey, but of course the lynx, the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton wrote in 1911, “lives on Rabbits, follows the Rabbits, thinks Rabbits, tastes like Rabbits, increases with them, and on their failure dies of starvation in the unrabbited woods.” Science has borne him out. One study in a remote area of Canada showed that during the peak of the hare cycle, there were 30 lynx per every 40 square miles; at the low point, just three lynx survived.

The boom-and-bust cycle of hares and lynx isn’t quite as dramatic in the animals’ southern range, where forests are patchier and lynx less common. But all lynx are snowshoe hare specialists, and that specialization may put them at risk. If the hares become more vulnerable to climate change, that doesn’t mean that lynx will automatically get more of them. Other predators (the goshawks, bears, fox, coyotes, and other animals mentioned above) could get to them first, leaving fewer for the lynx. And the lynx, because they’re specialists, won’t be able to fill their tummies with anything else, resulting in, ultimately, fewer lynx.

There are at least nine other mammal species that undergo coat changes in winter similar to that of the snowshoe hare, and unless they’re able to adapt their timing, they will face scenarios also similar to the snowshoe hare. The forces of evolution may help out some of these species, though — as the researchers note in PNAS, natural selection should not be discounted.

Image courtesy of flickr user DenaliNPS

Got Deer In The Backyard? If You Were In India, You Might Have Leopards


Here in the U.S., we complain about deer and bunnies munching on our gardens. In some places, people have to worry about more dangerous carnivores like coyotes, wolves, or bears. Where people and nature meet, conflict is often the rule.

In India, they’ve got animals such as leopards and hyenas to worry about. But where one might expect conflict, that isn’t a given, as demonstrated in a study published last month in PLOS One.

The study comes from a group of researchers led by the Wildlife Conservation Society-India who used camera traps to track leopards (Panthera pardus) and striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) in western Maharashtra (central India), an area that is rural and where most of the people are farmers growing sugar cane, millet, and vegetables. The cameras captured a number of leopards and hyenas over a one-month period in late 2008, and using those pictures, the researchers were able to calculate that there were about six leopards and five hyenas per 100 square kilometers. (For comparison, there were 100 wolves in Yellowstone National Park in 2011, or about 1.11 wolves per 100 square kilometers.)

Normally leopards in India live off of prey like cheetal and langur, but these smallish animals aren’t found much in this part of the country. Instead, the big cats are surviving on a diet of domestic dog and livestock, the researchers say.

In some places in India, leopards have been found preying on humans, but in western Maharashtra, there have been no fatal conflicts. This is particularly notable because the human population density there is very high — 300 people per square kilometer — and the cats were photographed on human trails, so they are definitely coming near the human population.

Why would there be little conflict?

“The crux of the issue to me is one of tolerance,” study lead author Vidya Athreya writes on the Project Waghoba website. “In many talks in cities, I often ask the public which of them would let be a leopard that is coming to their lane only to get dogs and has never harmed people. I do not think a single hand has ever been raised. However in rural India, tolerating other forms of life is a part of their lifestyle, be it domestic animals or wild.”

But beyond a lesson in tolerance, by showing that what might be considered dangerous wildlife can live near people without harming them, this study calls into question the perceived necessity of moving wildlife like leopards. Leopards that are found near human populations are now often treated as strays and moved to protected areas, the researchers say. But these translocated cats have attacked people near the sites where they are released. If they are less deadly when left in place, perhaps they should be left alone.

But I do wonder how well the local people deal with the loss of their dogs and, especially, their livestock, which is an issue that’s not addressed by the researchers. I imagine that for some poor farmers, losing even one animal can be a devastating financial loss. Any program to protect carnivores really needs to have some sort of scheme to insure people against livestock losses to give the humans less of a reason to kill these wonderful creatures.

Image (camera trap photo of a leopard from the study) credit: Project Waghoba

No Easy Solutions For Saving Africa’s Wildlife

elephantA sampling of recent stories from Africa:

Dozens of elephants were slaughtered in Chad in just a week. Then there was a study that estimated 62 percent of central Africa’s pachyderms were killed between 2002 and 2011. And a report that 80 percent of the water buffalo in the Serengeti have been lost to poaching, along with 2,000 elephants and nearly all the rhinos. The United Nations Environment Programme says that 22,218 great apes, more than half chimpanzees, have been killed since 2005.

In a rare spot of good news, six rare white rhinos were secretly transported to Botswana to escape rampant poaching in South Africa. But that’s just a drop in the bucket when two dozen rhinos can be killed in a week.

Thousands and thousands of iconic wildlife are killed each year in Africa, and I can’t help but think that the problem is getting worse.

There are plenty of suggestions for how to stop the tide: Legalize trade in rhino horn. Build fences around lion habitat. Slick ad campaigns and a multi-national anti-poaching force. But what strikes me about all these proposals and plans is that they don’t get to the heart of the problem — greed.

As long as the money to be made through the wildlife trade outweighs the risks and punishments, poaching will continue.

Those caught poaching animals or trafficking in their remains are often let off with little more than a slap on the wrist, usually just a fine. A Chinese ivory smuggler, for example, was fined all of $350 for a haul worth $2,500 before being set free. Punishment in the U.S. for these crimes can be more harsh — a father and son team of rhino horn smugglers faced a fine of up to $1 million in one case last year — but I do wonder how much of that was for tax evasion rather than wildlife trafficking. And though there are a few countries where poaching and smuggling can bring a sentence of jail time, convictions can be rare.

Calls for Google to remove ads for ivory are at least trying to get at the root of the problem. While there is a market for things like ivory and rhino horn and lion parts, there will be people willing to kill elephants and big cats and other amazing creatures.

But how do you fight a rumor that rhino horn will cure cancer? Or that lion bone will increase a man’s sex drive? That God wants to you wear ivory? That a chimp bone will make a child stronger?

Fences may help keep lions or elephants from straying into villages, but it won’t stop a determined man with a gun from trying to make a few thousand dollars. Legalizing trade in animal parts isn’t going to stop demand for them. Slick ad campaigns won’t deter someone who truly believes they’ve found a cure for the disease that’s killing them. And building up an army of anti-poaching forces can’t protect every animal on the continent, especially when there are still legal options (i.e., trophy hunting) for obtaining wildlife.

What we need, around the world, is better laws against the wildlife trade, better enforcement of these laws, and harsher punishments attached to wildlife crimes. And we should promote projects that give local people incentive to protect the wildlife around them, such as through ecotourism.

Because it’s only when we change the equation such that an elephant or a rhino or a lion is worth more alive than dead that the killing will stop.

Image of a poached elephant carcass in Cameroon in 2009, courtesy of flickr user USFWS Headquarters

Male Lions Are Ambush Hunters

LionsFemale lions are known to be great hunters, cooperating to bring down their prey. Male lions, in contrast, have reputations for being great moochers, living off the kills of the females in their prides. That reputation is undeserved — males do indeed hunt — but it seems that they take a different hunting tactic, finds a study published in Animal Behaviour.

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford, California, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa matched airborne measurements of vegetation cover in South Africa’s Kruger National Park with GPS telemetry of lion kills. They found that male lions tended to kill in areas that had shorter lines-of-sight than where they rested (lions, being cats, spend most of their time resting), especially at night. But there was no difference with females.

They concluded that the male lions were taking advantage of areas with lots of vegetative cover to ambush their prey. That difference in technique likely helps male lions to be as successful in their hunting as the females that are using the high-success strategy of cooperation.

Reading through the paper, I wonder if the finding might also account for the males’ undeserved reputation for laziness. Lion studies are much easier in open lands like the Serengeti, and it’s in those places where females’ cooperation is especially noticeable. If the males were hunting off in the brush where scientists weren’t looking, no one would have noticed that the males’ ambush tactics.

But more importantly, the scientists say, the finding might have implications for the management of parks and other wildlife areas.

“By strongly linking male lion hunting behavior to dense vegetation, this study suggests that changes to vegetation structure, such as through fire management, could greatly alter the balance of predators and prey,” study co-author Scott Loarie, of the Carnegie Institution of Science, said in a statement.

Image of lions in Kruger National Park courtesy of flickr user jon|k