Thursday, March 30, 2006

Snow Leopard DNA studies

DNA analysis at the University of Idaho may strip some of the secrets from Central Asia’s elusive snow leopard, wildlife biologists say.

UI wildlife professor Lisette Waits’ use of DNA analysis on hair and scat samples from the rare cats apparently will be the first time the technique has been applied to snow leopards, which typically show little genetic variation among their population groups.

Waits worked with colleagues at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and the National Institutes of Health to develop the new tool. She gained an international profile for her work on bears in Europe and later on grizzlies in the Rocky Mountains.

Waits said DNA analysis will help scientists to better estimate snow leopard numbers.

“I am really excited to provide new tools that will aid in the conservation and management of this threatened species,” said Waits.

Waits worked in cooperation with Warren Johnson of the NIH Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Maryland to identify repeating sections of DNA called microsatellite loci. Geneticists use data from microsatellite loci for DNA fingerprints and individual identification.

Using genetic samples provided by Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, these geneticists tested more than 50 snow leopard loci, and 10 have shown the degree of variability needed to make the technique successful for the species.

Conservation scientists now will be able to test field collected specimens, such as feces and shed hairs, to identify individuals or determine sex.

The Snow Leopard Trust has sent 85 fecal samples to the UI for genetic assessment. These samples were collected in Kyrgyzstan and China in conjunction with trap camera and sign surveys. The three techniques will be evaluated to compare what level of information they each provide on snow leopard numbers.

Waits expects results by summer that will be shared with snow leopard conservationists around the world.


For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition here:


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