PhD student and cheetah researcher Morgan Maly is in Namibia. Thanks to Conservation Nation, she’s collecting scat samples from the wild that will help experts better understand cheetah diets, strengthening care of the species as its population numbers fall. Here’s a message from Morgan about her progress.
It is HOT here at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), and the rainy season threatens to begin any day now. But luck is on my side, because the rains have held off since the first cheetah poop in my study dropped. With only two more days of sampling, I might just get lucky and avoid any rain messing with my samples. I managed to collect eight, fresh cheetah scats in only three days (this has to be a record). I’m running the same pilot study I performed at SCBI, where I collect fresh fecal samples and subsample them every 24 hours for 7 days to see how the fecal microbiota changes over time.
Why am I doing this experiment again in Namibia? Mainly to see how the hot humid summer of northern Virginia compares to the hot dry summer in Namibia. Wild fecal samples are very difficult to find, especially fresh samples. Scat dries out much faster here in Namibia, so I want to be sure that when Tim and his scat dog team at the CCF find cheetah poop out in the wild that I can use it for the microbial analysis. The results of this study will tell me how long a cheetah fecal sample is good for in the wild. The older the poop remains viable, the more samples I am able to utilize, and the stronger the diet comparison study will be.
Once I have collected and extracted my samples, I will fly back to the Smithsonian to sequence the samples and analyze the data. This will give me the answer to how old a Namibian cheetah poop can be. With this new information, I will return to CCF to complete the sample collection from resident cheetahs and wild cheetahs for the diet comparison study. In the diet comparison study, I will investigate the differences in gut microbial diversity between cheetahs consuming one of five diets. I will compare the CCF and wild cheetah samples to samples I’ve collected from multiple zoos in North America. This study will provide important information regarding the cheetah diet and gastrointestinal health, and improve the management and welfare of cheetahs.