Using genetics to evaluate tiger diet in Nepal
The RZSS WildGenes laboratory have developed a method for evaluating tiger and leopard diets. By using scat samples from captive felids at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife park we have used metabarcoding to accurately determine what each cat has been eating. Metabarcoding is simply a technique that allows us to search for a genetic barcode within a sample. If the tiger has recently eaten cow then our test will pick up the genetic sequence for cattle in the faecal sample. This test can prove very useful as its often difficult to work out what an animal has been eating, especially wild, elusive cats.
By teaming up with Chester Zoo, the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN) and Oxford’s University’s WildCru we have transferred this protocol to Nepal for use in the Living with Tigers Project. As conflict with humans is one of the key threats to big cats such as tigers and leopards, this project aimed to decrease the conflict that occurs when humans and tigers share the same landscapes. By identifying the species that tigers are preying on, our genetic test can reveal if and when tigers are targeting livestock such as goats or cattle. This helps teams on the ground to map hotspots where conflicts are more likely to occur and allows the teams to identify the communities that would benefit most from interventions to protect their livestock.
This project is a continuation of our partnership with CMDN and WildCru which began in 2014 with the development of genetic tools to study the Himalayan wolves of the Tibetan plateau to the North of Nepal. Read more about the initial training visits to Kathmandu here.
In this episode of #RZSSGoesWild, find out more about why it's important for us to understand what's on the menu for wild tigers in Nepal, how DNA from poo can help us do this, and how the tigers at our zoos helped us to refine our tiger poo detective skills.