The Power of Genetics in Snow Leopard Conservation

The October 2008 issue of Animal Conservation features the first results of the genetic work conducted by Jan Janecka, Texas A&M University, in partnership with the Snow Leopard Conservancy and others.

Animal Conservation: Vol 11(5):pages 401-411. Population monitoring of snow leopards using noninvasive collection of scat samples: a pilot study. 2008. J. E. Janečka, R. Jackson, Z. Yuquang, L. Diqiang, B. Munkhtsog, V. Buckley-Beason, W. J. Murphy

An abstract is available at:

This pioneering genetic study was also featured in the October 15 issue of New Scientist Online

The full story, paraphrased below, is available at:
The article describes how snow leopard numbers can be read in their scat. A genetic test specific to endangered snow leopards can reveal vital information on their numbers and diversity from a sample of feces. What is more, a pilot study has found that some feces thought to come from snow leopards were actually from red foxes or lynx – a disturbing sign that previous estimates of snow leopard numbers may be far too high.
Genetic testing of feces is more precise than field observations, but efforts to date have been limited because the costs were high. But now, these genetic approaches have become reasonably priced, allowing for large-scale studies. In addition, standard molecular primers based on domestic cats were not reliable when testing the degraded DNA in snow leopard feces. This led co-author Jan Janecka of Texas A&M University to develop tests specific for snow leopard DNA in scat.

Trials using the new approach in China, India and Mongolia show it is much more reliable and can effectively identify individual snow leopards.

That information is crucial for conservation, says co-author Rodney Jackson, director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy of Sonoma, California, which has plans for expanding the genetic test-based survey program.

Animal Conservation is a publication of the Zoological Society of London. The journal provides a forum for rapid and timely publication of novel scientific studies of past, present and future factors influencing the conservation of animal species and their habitats. The focus is on rigorous studies of an empirical or theoretical nature, relating to species and population biology. A central theme is to publish important new ideas and findings from evolutionary biology and ecology that contribute towards the scientific basis of conservation biology.

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