Washing Scat | African Wildlife Foundation
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Washing Scat

  • 04/06/09
  • Nakedi

So far the cameras haven’t captured any leopard with the new method that we are trying out. Using the biased sampling design, after three weeks (21-22 days) we had already captured three different leopards. The new method therefore must be jazzed up a little (thanks Craig!); hopefully this will influence the chances of capturing leopards. This means that we need to take things one step further, by luring the camera stations.

I have heard that leopard scat could work, but we need leopard scat for diet analyses. Then there is leopard urine, but I don’t think it is advisable to bring foreign biological material in to the park; that could have some devastating effects on the ecosystem should there be unwanted organisms in there.

Then there was perfume, yes perfume! So far I have been able to find out that Hugo Boss may be the best one to go for. Apparently there are some very useful pheromones in there. I will as a result try it out. Some other researchers have used it successfully in the past. If anything at all, the lure will at least slow down any cat that will walk past the camera, which would be very helpful when trying to identify captured leopards.

In the meantime I started washing the scat. After avoiding that part for some time I finally plucked up enough courage get it done. It is a smelly business, but I think it will be less smelly after all the scats have been washed. After just over one year I’ve been able to collect about 50 leopard droppings, mostly opportunistically while driving or walking.

Going through Theodore Bailey’s African Leopard one picks up that leopards tend to leave their droppings in high places and on the roads to mark their territories. That is if they do not decide to bury the scat. The most difficult scats to identify are the old ones, as there are no fresh tracks to supplement their source. In that case, Singita’s tracking team has been most helpful in identifying them.

So… how do we wash the scat? Ideally we place them in nylon stockings and wash them in water until all that is left in there are just bones and hair. A few ladies laughed hysterically (some mumbling all sorts of things under their laughs -- they think they have a psycho in their midst) at me when I asked for their old stockings, such that I had to go and buy cheap ones from the store myself. Even that was difficult as the lady at the pay point processed the whole event with a wry smirk patched on her face. Walking out of that store was quite a relief.

The hair and bone fragments will be identified and added to the leopard prey species list in the area. For the hair, I have a catalogue of hair that I have been putting up together for different animals. This will help in identifying hair samples from the scat. A minor glitch here is with regards to equipment to use when identifying hair samples. For that we need a dissecting microscope. If there is anyone out there who has an old dissecting microscope and does not use it anymore, would you consider donating it to us? The list will be used to help us quantify the leopard prey preference in the area and later compared to lion prey preference.


Nakedi
About the Author

Joining AWF in 2007, Nakedi is the latest addition to AWF's team of species researchers in Africa. Working in the Limpopo region, where he's from, Nakedi's studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies that will benefit communities he's known all his life. Looking at Nakedi's focus areas as a zoologist – Cytogenetics, Molecular Biology, and Geometric Morphometrics – it's easy to see he is serious about conservation. Leopards as a species especially interested him because they are both powerful and elusive – making it a challenge to study and protect them.

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