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 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.
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