Wildlife-Forensics at Cheetah Conservation Fund

  • by Monika Nanghama August 22, 2019
Wildlife-Forensics at Cheetah Conservation Fund

On one of his morning transect sample collection trips Tim Hofman, our scat dog researcher, spotted drag marks on the road. He decided to stop and follow them when he finally spotted a springbok carcass up in a tree. He also followed the drag marks to the kill site. He notified the genetics lab team and we immediately left our desks for a brief but very adventurous field trip.

No doubt that this is a leopard kill, with the kill up in the tree plus only leopards are strong enough around CCF to climb a tree with their kill. This presented an opportunity to collect samples for our “Carnivore Forensics” pilot study. The study will focus on identifying species responsible for kills based on salivary DNA extracted from swabs of carcasses. Human-Wildlife-Conflict is still a problem in Namibia and often unlucky predators/ individuals, especially cheetahs, get punished for kills they haven’t done. This project will aim at helping the farmer define the problem so that we can work on solutions using the various solutions to human-wildlife conflict that we have at hand at CCF.

I had to climb the tree in order to collect samples from what’s left of a male springbok. The first step was to examine the carcass for signs of scavenging activities which were none in this case, the aim is to collect DNA from the individual that made the kill and not the scavenger’s DNA, which could e.g. vultures.

I moved on to examine the carcass for areas that were eaten and looked potential for holding predator DNA, which were swabbed together with the bones so I can rehydrate the saliva and be able to trap Predator DNA in the Swab which can then be extracted.
I also looked for skin that was eaten around and collected some of that skin to take back to the lab so we can see if we can develop a protocol that will allow us to wash the DNA off of the hair and extract it.

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