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Genetic analysis of scat reveals leopard Panthera pardus and cheetah Acinonyx jubatus in southern Algeria

George B.J. Busbya1 p1 c1, Dada Gottellia1, Tim Wachera2, Laurie Markera3, Farid Belbachira1 p2, Koen De Smeta4, Amel Belbachir-Bazia5, Amina Fellousa6, Mohamed Belghoula7 and Sarah M. Duranta1 p3

a1 Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London, UK.

a2 Conservation Programmes, Zoological Society of London, London, UK.

a3 Cheetah Conservation Fund, Otjiwarongo, Namibia.

a4 Environmental Policy Division, Flemish Ministry of the Environment, Brussels, Belgium.

a5 Laboratoire d'Ecologie & Environnement, Université de Béjaïa, Béjaïa, Algeria.

a6 Agence Nationale pour la Conservation de la Nature, Algiers, Algeria.

a7 Départment des Etudes et du Dévelopment du Patrimoine Naturel, Office du Parc National de l'Ahaggar, Tamanrasset, Algeria.

Abstract

Assessing the biodiversity of a region, particularly when it includes rare, cryptic and nocturnal species, is notoriously difficult but nevertheless of great importance, especially in regions that have received little prior research interest. Species in these regions are often only perceived to be present through the identification of animal signs such as scat or hair. Here we show how molecular techniques can be used to sequence mitochondrial DNA extracted from the scat of essentially unknown carnivore species and thus assess the species present in a remote desert region in southern Algeria. In doing so we present a reliable and reproducible method for determining carnivore biodiversity through non-invasive sampling. We also identify two species of large carnivore in an area where one, the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, is known to exist but at very low densities, and another, the leopard Panthera pardus, has never previously been observed.

(Received July 14 2008)

(Reviewed September 16 2008)

(Accepted December 15 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London, UK. E-mail george.busby@zoo.ox.ac.uk

p1 Current address: Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK.

p2 Also at: Laboratoire d'Ecologie & Environnement, Université de Béjaïa, Béjaïa, Algeria.

p3 Also at: Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA.

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