In northern Namibia there is a city called Otjiwarongo which is the cheetah capital of the world, playing home to 1,400 wild cheetahs. This city is also home to Africa’s only cheetah genetics laboratory, which is run by the Cheetah Conservation Fund. This facility houses the world’s largest collection of biological material from wild cheetahs, including eggs, semen, blood and tissue which have been laboriously collected from over a thousand individuals.
The researchers are also able to collect DNA samples in non-invasive ways, such as collection of cheetah poop, more scientifically called scat. They utilize specialized dogs to sniff out cheetah scat in the wild and from this they can track the gender and diet of the cheetah that left the sample. It is also possible to track how many individual cheetahs are present in an area by comparing the DNA from the scats.
This array of collected DNA is providing researchers with a better understanding of cheetah genetics. It has also allowed them to determine than in fact there are only four subspecies present in Africa, rather than five as was previously thought. It is hoped that this genetic information will provide conservation scientists with some clues to help conserve this vulnerable species from extinction.
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