The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Scat-detecting dogs as effective means to locate fecal samples from unhabituated primates

JOSEPH D. ORKIN1,2 and XUELONG JIANG3.

1Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, 2State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution; Ecology, Conservation, and Environment Center (ECEC), Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, Yunnan, China, 3State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, Yunnan, China

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The difficulty of acquiring scat samples from unhabituated primates has long hindered the range and scope of genetic and endocrinological studies of free-ranging primates. While scat samples can be collected from well-habituated primate groups with relative ease, it is often impossible when reclusive and arboreal primates scatter upon human presence, have poorly known distributions, or occupy large home ranges in arduous terrain. As a result, few population genetic studies of free-ranging primates have adequately sampled broadly distributed populations of unhabituated primates.

Recently, scat-detecting dogs have been used successfully to locate and identify target feces during surveys of rare mammals; however, this technique has never been applied to primates. We acquired a pedigreed Belgian Malinois from the Police Dog Training Base of the Chinese Ministry of Security. With three months of modified narcotics and search-and-rescue dog training in Kunming, we taught the dog to identify scat samples from black crested gibbons (Nomascus concolor) and Phayre's leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus phayrei). During the initial five months of fieldwork in Yunnan Province, China (Wulianghan and Yongde Daxueshan National Nature Reserves), we identified 104 putative scat samples of various ages from the two species of interest. Fecal samples were collected from the forest floor using the two-step EtOH/silica method and stored at room temperature for up to two months at room temperature before freezing at -30 °C or -80 °C. DNA barcoding of the mitochondrial D-loop confirmed the accuracy of this method.

This study was funded in part by The Leakey Foundation, The American Philosophical Society Lewis and Clark Fund, Lambda Alpha, and Washington University in St. Louis.

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