While strolling in the woods with my captive lynx one day, I noticed her rubbing her cheeks on certain objects, just as house cats do. Suddenly, an idea flashed into my mind. What if I could entice wild lynx to rub their furry cheeks on some deivice and then collect their hair? Parhaps a geneticist could determine, through DNA fingerprinting of the hair samples, the identity, gender, and genetic relatedness of different lynx. Scientists would have a whole new, non-invasive, cost-effective, and richly informative way to study these threatened felids.
Lynx are shy, secretive animals and difficult to census. Lack of reliable information about their distribution, abundance, and genetic status has hampered development of sound conservation strategies. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that listing of the lynx under the Endangered Species Act was "warranted but precluded" due to other priorities. New techniques for sampling rare carnivores such as lynx were sorely needed.
During initial tests in spring 1996, I found that a simple piece of carpet studded with small tacks and splashed with eau de feline (mover over, Michael Jordan) were irresistable to more than 50 captive lynx and bobcats. I collected the hairs the cats left behind, and these known samples were sent to New York, to the Conservation Genetics Laboratory of WCS, where George Amato is testing them to determine useful DNA markers. Meanwhile, in field tests in Montana, we were able to gather 28 samples of verified lynx hair from 20 sites. All results to date indicate that this combination of innovative field work and sophisticated laboratory analyses will provide a new technique for gaining crucial information on these elusive cats. I'm looking forward to luring other species of wild cats in the same manner.
The following is extracted from "Scientific Postmortem: A Protocol for Collection of Data and Specimens" by Andrew Kitchener, Stephen McOrist and Robert Wayne (1996). In Wild Cats, Novell, K., and Jackson,P. (Eds) IUCN.
Remember: any tissue that was once living can be a source of DNA. New techniques allow geneticists to obtain potentially useful material from bone, skin, hair, feces, even if the material is several years old and decayed. Don't throw anything away if it may be important!
The authors' institutions will gladly accept biological specimens.
Andrew C. Kitchener, Dept. of Natural History, Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF.
Steven McOrist, Dept. of Veterinary Pathology, University of Edinburgh, Veterinary Field Station, Easter Bush, Midlothian, EH25 9RG.
Robert K. Wayne, Nuffield Laboratories, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London, NW1 4RW.
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