19 May

Picking up Poop Builds a Roof

Builds a Roof

Panthera’s field staff understand that while collecting cat scat falls under the less glamorous side of carnivore research, it can provide critical information that may be used to help conserve threatened species, like the lion. All feces contain epithelial cells that are shed from the intestinal lining as it passes through the animal's gut. Panthera has partnered with the Global Felid Genetics Programme (GFGP) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to extract DNA from scat collected in the field, and to use this material to create a ‘genetic fingerprint’ for individual cats. These analyses provide Panthera’s scientists with a wealth of information about felid populations - such as their life histories, diets, social relationships, and movement patterns - which is crucial to planning effective conservation initiatives for wild cats throughout the world.

However, finding cat droppings among dense vegetation and across vast areas can be a challenge, particularly in tropical environments where they decay rapidly under the scorching sun. The Panthera-supported Niassa Carnivore Project, run by Colleen and Keith Begg in close collaboration with The Society for the Development of the Niassa Reserve (SRN), has come up with an innovative idea to overcome the difficulties of collecting cat scat in the Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique, where temperatures often exceed 100°F.

The Beggs have incentivized their team to collect the hard-to-find droppings by offering a ‘bonsela’ (a bonus) for each scat found. Euzebio Waiti, the Niassa project’s chief field assistant, took this challenge to heart and has spent much of his free time searching vigilantly for the elusive lion dung. Amazingly, despite their cryptic nature, he managed to find more than 50 scats during the last three months!

Euzebio’s efforts produced an impressive ‘bonsela’ for both himself and the Niassa Carnivore Project. He recently used his bonus to purchase a highly-coveted corrugated iron roof for his house, which is the first of its kind in his village! At the same time, the Niassa Carnivore Project now has a prodigious new supply of genetic material from a lion population that has never before been sampled. This has greatly improved knowledge of the region’s lion population - which numbers between 800-1,000 individuals, and is one of the few populations in Africa believed to be growing - and will allow the Niassa Carnivore Project and SRN to develop far more efficient conservation plans for lions and other large carnivores.

Learn more about The Niassa Carnivore Project.

Typical Niassa landscape showing the Lugenda River, Lipumbula Inselberg (isolated rock hill) and open woodland habitat with some plains areas. Mbamba Village where Euzebio lives can be seen in the far right corner.