Carnivore diet identification through scat and genetic analysis in Namibia, Africa

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Worldwide the cheetah population is declining making them Africa's most endangered large cat. Namibia, Africa currently has the largest population of cheetahs in the world. During the summer of 2014, I did scat analysis of carnivores on the property of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia in order to better understand the predators that compete with the cheetah and how the ecosystem works as a whole. I worked at CCF for nine weeks to analyze the diets of carnivores in the area through genetic and scat analysis. Analyzing carnivore feces would ultimately identify the diet of various carnivores in the area. One hundred and eight carnivore scat samples were analyzed including jackal, hyena, genet, serval, leopard, african wildcat, caracal, civet, aardwolf and cheetah samples. This information would help CCF understand how the entire ecosystem interacts and aid them in their efforts to manage and protect the wild cheetah. DNA was extracted from each scat sample to determine the species each sample came from. The DNA was then amplified using polymerase chain reaction. Ultimately, the sequences were compared to a genome reference database and the species were determined by sequence similarity. The scat samples were then washed and the contents were analyzed microscopically and macroscopically. Microscopic analysis involved burning hairs to create imprints and looking at the patterns underneath a microscope. My results revealed that the cheetahs are primarily competing with leopards for their prey. When CCF releases cheetahs back into the wild they will now be able to take my findings into consideration to locate the best release site

University of New Hampshire
Senior Honors Thesis
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