The status of several small carnivores in Asia remains poorly known because of the lack of rigorous population assessments. The leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis is one such species assumed to be common and widespread within the Indian subcontinent. We conducted surveys using automated cameras to estimate densities and abundance of leopard cats in and around 4 protected reserves in the Western Ghats of India. A total effort of 16,736 camera-days across a 2,075-km2 area resulted in 65 detections of 43 uniquely identified individuals. We estimated leopard cat densities using closed population spatial capture–recapture models under a Bayesian framework. Estimated density was highest in Bhadra Tiger Reserve at 10.45 (± 3.03 SD)/100 km2 followed by 4.48 (± 1.31 SD)/100 km2 in Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve. The surveys yielded sparse data from Nagarahole and Bandipur reserves. High local densities in Bhadra and BRT were clustered around secondary, disturbed or partially modified forests and human-use areas. Our results provide information critical to the conservation of leopard cats, emphasizing the importance of maintaining habitat buffers and wildlife-permeable areas around protected reserves. Insights from our study highlight the potential of the Western Ghats landscape to serve as a long-term conservation area for leopard cats. Further, our study demonstrates the utility of spatially explicit capture–recapture methods for estimating populations of leopard cats, and may be applied to other threatened small carnivores that are uniquely identified from their morphological features.
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Vol. 96 • No. 4