The Leo Foundation supports students and researchers in projects which contribute towards the conservation of large carnivores.
One line of research includes the use of genetic data to inform management and policy. Often, it is difficult to get blood or tissue samples from lions, tigers, or other large carnivores, and we don’t allow wild animals to be sedated just for taking a sample for ethical reasons. However, we can also collect samples non-invasively, and extract DNA from scat samples. These contain a wealth of information, not only about the genetic characteristics of the individual and population, but also about microbiome and diet of these large carnivores.
Understanding what lions and tigers eat is crucial for understanding how they use a landscape and how they interact with humans. If they feed a lot on domestic animals, this could indicate that there is conflict with local communities. Traditional methods, such as carcass counts and direct observations, typically have a bias towards detecting larger prey species. However, with DNA, we can also find traces of smaller prey species, or prey items that are consumed less frequently. Kevin Groen recently published a paper, showing that small and very small prey species constitute almost 20% of the prey occurrences for lions in four national parks in Kenya.
Leo Foundation continues to support these studies. We encourage the exploration of more field-based methods and support capacity building in both lab work and the bioinformatics necessary to analyse such datasets.