Studying wildlife is no easy task and ensuring it is done in the most non-invasive way can also be a challenge. When researchers wish to gather certain information about a species without actually capturing, and possibly harming, an animal they will often use camera-traps to take images or video of an animal. The traps are placed in predetermined areas or corridors where the species is known to frequent and are kept well hidden to reduce the impact on wildlife and chances of theft by humans.
Along with gathering valuable information about use of habitat, social behaviors, and what they eat, camera traps can also help provide a visual health assessment of an animal. In some cases the images caught of rare, elusive, shy, and nocturnal felines can prove to be quit beautiful.
While camera trap have proven useful they cannot collect physical samples, which are often required for research, and that is why scientists sometime rely on scented hair-traps to collect DNA, determine what the animals habitat ranges are and learn about genetic diversity. The traps have been in use since the 1990’s, mainly in cooler climates, and have been gaining popularity as a way to sample without stressing wildlife. Peninsular Malaysia is the latest place to employ this non-invasive method which is aimed at gathering population data from some it’s most endangered carnivores including the Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Golden Cat (Pardofelis temminckii), Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and the Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata).
The use of scented hair-traps would allow researchers to obtain hair from a wild animal when they touch, or in the case of felines, rub up against the trap which is on a tree. To enhance the chance of obtaining samples appealing odors, specially created fatty acids or men’s cologne, were used to entice animals to the traps which were set up in two main wildlife corridors. After 764 nights they discovered (via camera traps that were used to monitor the project) that at least one male Malayan Tiger and one male Clouded Leopard had rubbed against a trap.
Scientists where later able to collect the hair of the cat, in the case the Tiger. The Clouded Leopard did rub the spot on the tree where the scent had been but elephants, another obstacle to the study, had already removed the trap. It was also discovered that the CD may have been a deterrent to a few of the felines, as one was seen running away from it, proving that not all cats like shiny things.
From this study scientists determined that for now at least, scented hair-traps in Peninsular Malaysian need improving, either by making the scents stronger or by moving locations of the traps. More work will be required to determine the potential of this non-invasive method and if it will benefit studying endangered felids in tropical forests.