We have been diligently collecting Brown Hyeana scats as part of our census with a view to analysing the DNA to identify the individuals within the population. Being a less known and less studied species, however, little genetic work has been done on them to date, and we are not confident that the genetic markers currently available for the species will be enough to identify individual animals accurately. Once again, we are turning to the dogs for help. A study in Russia successfully trained dogs to identify individual Amur Tigers from their scats, using known samples. The dogs’ sense of smell is so good they can tell which sample comes from which cat, by matching them together.
We do not have known Hyeana scats, but we do have samples from other species such as the Wild Dog that we know exactly which individual they came from. We will use these samples for training and for testing, then run the trial blind on our Hyeana samples. This will give us a population estimate that we can compare with other census methods to assess it’s efficacy. If it is successful, it may well open alot of doors for cheap and non-invasive carnivore sampling in Africa, without the need for expensive DNA analysis.
Police Bloodhounds have been shown to be able to accuractly discriminate between closely related individuals, but not between monozygotic or identical twins, so it seems there is a genetic component in the smell. Today is the first day of training for this project, so watch this space to see how we progress!