In November of 2017, I published a Q&A post with Dr. Natalie Schmitt. Dr. Schmitt is a conservation geneticist who is developing a DNA field kit to help scientists study snow leopards (Panthera uncia). The paper kit can confirm whether or not a scat (poop) sample is from a snow leopard, dramatically reducing identification errors in the field. This will make snow leopard research much more efficient. Dr. Schmitt’s vital work has recently been highlighted by one of her supporters: the big cat conservation NGO Panthera.
On February 12, Dr. Schmitt wrote a blog post on Panthera’s website about her journey. She talks about how Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries and Dr. Jane Goodall’s story inspired her to get involved in conservation, and how she eventually earned her PhD while studying whales in Antarctica.
When Dr. Schmitt came up with the idea to develop a DNA field kit for snow leopard identification, she gave up her promising career in whale research. Dr. Yingfu Li of McMaster University in Canada agreed to help, and Panthera gave Dr. Schmitt enough money to start the project. The journey has been hard, but Dr. Schmitt has made remarkable progress.
In a recent update on her website, Dr. Schmitt explained that her field kit might end up being far more sensitive than she had originally hoped. In fact, in might be able to detect DNA samples in water. In addition, she was recently able to travel to Nepal and partner with The Centre for Molecular Genetics. There she learned about the conditions snow leopard researchers have to deal with in the field, and about the challenges of coexisting with these legendary cats.
In fact, on February 15 Panthera released a video on Facebook about this trip. It contains footage from the remote Mustang region of Nepal, and great information about snow leopard conservation. Here is the video:
I strongly recommend you read Dr. Schmitt’s blog post on Panthera’s website. I have provided a brief teaser of what it entails, but the original article contains much more information. In addition, be sure to visit Dr. Schmitt’s website to support her work! Her project is largely funded by public donations, and she could definitely use our help to turn this field kit into reality.