It’s not easy or cheap to catch an elusive wild cat, and trapping such an animal can prove harmful to the individual. With such factors in mind, researchers are consistently turning to non-invasive methods of gathering data about species, including collecting feces and the increasingly popular camera trap. But one method rarely gets mentioned: the humble hair-snare. A new study in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has demonstrated the success of hair-snare in gathering data about mammals in Mexico, including the first successful hair catch of two rarely seen cat species, the jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) and the margay (Leopardus wiedii).
Hair snares are pads sprayed with a particular scent, such as catnip. The smell leads certain mammals to the pad where they rub against it, leaving hairs for the scientist to collect and identify through DNA analysis.
“This method can be an alternative to live trapping that is often logistically difficult, expensive, and invasive. In addition, hair snares have been more successful in obtaining samples in tropical ecosystems than scat collection due to the high decomposition rates of feces in the tropical rainforest,” the authors explain.
Margay in Belize. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Placing hair snares in the Selva jungle in the Mexican state of Chiapas, researchers were able to capture data on eight species, including three of the five wild cats known to inhabit the region: margay, jaguarundi, and ocelots.
“Initially, hair snares were designed to target carnivores and in this study to collect felid samples, but it is clear that this method may be used to attract other mammalian species as well. Sometimes this ‘bycatch’ can provide useful information. […] This method has potential for estimating diversity and population abundance, and it could be used in more detailed surveys of non-carnivore species.” In addition to the three cat species, the study captured data on gray fox, tayra, coatis, possums, and mustelids.
By capturing data on three wild cats, the study confirmed that hair snares are a positive tool for feline conservation in the tropics.
“The deficit of information on carnivore populations and specifically felids in tropical ecosystems is partially due to the lack of reliable cost-effective methodologies allowing managers to obtain data that will eventually lead to the development of appropriate management strategies. The hair-snare method and data of mammal species considered in this study indicate the potential that this technique has for obtaining samples from mammal populations in tropical ecosystems,” the authors conclude.
CITATION: García-Alaníz, N.. Naranjo, E. J. and Mallory, F. F. 2010. Hair-snares: a noninvasive method for monitoring felid populations in the Selva Lacandona, Mexico. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (4): 403-411.