New DNA Test Could be a Game Changer for Snow Leopards

A new invention could help generate more accurate knowledge about the snow leopard’s population status. Okara Loves her Daddy! by Tambako the Jaguar (Emmanuel Keller). CC BY-ND 2.0

There has been considerable drama surrounding snow leopard (Panthera uncia) conservation lately. In September, the snow leopard’s threat status was downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable. This move sparked considerable controversy, mostly due to uncertainties surrounding the cat’s population status. Conservation geneticist Dr. Natalie Schmitt has devised a unique way to help address this problem.

She has developed a DNA Field Kit for testing animals’ scat (poop). Collecting scat is an important part of conducting population surveys for elusive animals, like snow leopards. But it is difficult to distinguish snow leopard scat from that of other species. This means scientists often spend large amounts of time and money gathering scat in the mountains of Central Asia, only to discover that they have collected samples for the wrong species.

When I say “often,” I mean they obtain the wrong scat over 50% of the time. Dr. Schmitt’s Field Kit aims to fix this.

The DNA Field Kit works as follows. Researchers carry the lightweight, paper Kit with them in the field. When they find some scat, they place a small amount of it on the DNA Field Kit. If the scat is from a snow leopard, the paper changes color. It is an easy, inexpensive way to reduce errors in the field.

Dr. Schmitt’s Field Kit could greatly benefit snow leopard conservation. Snow Leopard by William Warby. CC BY 2.0

Dr. Schmitt has given everything to developing this Field Kit. An article from ABC News Australia claims that she is currently homeless and is struggling to get by – but she is refusing to give up. She has already shown that the Field Kit can reliably identify snow leopard DNA, and now she is in the process of making the kit more compact.

Dr. Schmitt’s DNA Field Kit is a game-changer. It could revolutionize the way snow leopard surveys are conducted, and help produce more accurate knowledge about this remarkable cat’s population status.

I highly recommend you take a few minutes to learn more about the DNA Field Kit. Most of the information in this post comes from a short article by ABC News Australia, and Dr. Schmitt has constructed a website for her Field Kit. Both sources are worth a read.

In addition, please consider making a donation to support the development of the DNA Field Kit. Dr. Schmitt is largely relying on crowdfunding to finance this project (although she also receives support from the big cat NGO Panthera), and she could use our help.

Dr. Schmitt’s DNA Field Kit is an exciting development, and I hope you will consider supporting her.

Further Reading:

Nats Cats DNA – Dr. Schmitt’s website

Snow leopard DNA test uses animal’s own poo to solve conservation riddle – Ann Jones of ABC News Australia


12 thoughts on “New DNA Test Could be a Game Changer for Snow Leopards

  1. Can they make those in a mini? They sure are pretty. Of course, even a mini, if it’s anything like my Chloe could be an creature to be reckoned with. Fortunately, Chloe does keep her claws in when playing roughly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, she does look embarrassed! I wonder if she’d feel better if I told her that her poo contains valuable genetic material that could be used to help protect her species?

      Maybe I should give that spiel to human females…do you think it’d make a good pick-up line?


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