A neighbor, Bill Robichaud, has been consulting in Laos on the critically endangered saola, a small, horned mammal. This animal is a distinctive species, with long, straight horns. It lives in broadleaf rainforests in The Loa People’s Democratic Republic and in Viet Nam. It is found only in the Annamite Mountain Range of Vietnam and Laos. The saola was discovered in May 1992 during a joint survey carried out by the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and World Wildlife Federation in north-central Vietnam.
Because the animal is so rare, secretive and seldom seem, one way it is being “tracked” is by examining the blood within leeches, which are much easier to find than the saola. The DNA of the saola stays in the leech for about four days. If the saola’s DNA is found in the blood, researchers have proof of the saola being present in an area. They could, with a little more biochemistry, determine how many different individuals there are in the area.
More and more direct and indirect information is being recorded using nucleic acid finger printing, such as this. Molecular biologists know a particular species, and in some cases an individual, has been at a site by finding molecules left by the species.
Criminals have been convicted using this methodology, so why not continue to expand using molecular biology to help determine populations of animals, or in this case, at least the presence of a species in a region?
Some of this information was helpful in learning more about Wisconsin cougars.
It may one day also play a role in chronic wasting disease (CWD) management. One Wisconsin soil scientist is examining the soil in old mineral licks to determine if prions, abnormal proteins that cause CWD, are present in the soil in areas where deer frequent.
With that soil work as background, might it be possible, for example, to examine the fresh saliva clinging to chewed vegetation and to determine what animal bit off the stem and further, if that saliva contained any shed prions?
This might give researchers a whole new look at CWD frequencies in regions, as well as a plethora of other data, including sex of the animal.
Scientists may learn from expanding the use of molecular biology beyond what they already do. This would be a sort of chemical trail cam.