Sand Cat Ecology and Conservation in the Southern Moroccan Sahara

Although sand cats (Felis margarita) were down listed from near threatened to least concern following a recent IUCN red list assessment, it was highlighted in the assessment that very limited ecological research has taken place and as a result its distribution, impact of threats and status is difficult to assess. Our study was established 2013 in the Southern Morocco, 150 km from the coast and city of Dakhla with the primary aim of improving our knowledge and understanding of sand cat ecology through the use of radio telemetry, for the first time on the African continent. Initiated by Dr. Alexander Sliwa (Curator at Koln Zoo, Germany) and Grégory Breton (then Curator at Parc des Félins, France, and now Managing Director of Panthera France), this study has been able to increase capacity by involving Moroccan collaborators from Rabat Zoo as well as local guides and drivers. The study area itself is characterised by stony and sandy Sahara ecosystems with less than 50 mm of annual rainfall and is strongly impacted by pastoralist activities and structural development with the associated dangers to all mesocarnivores (felids, canids and mustelids). We are collecting spatial data on radio-collared sand cats, which to this extent, has never been done before in the sand cat´s global distribution. Our preliminary results demonstrate that the sand cats are highly mobile and don’t use the landscape homogeneously but in an exceptional temporal and spatial pattern for a small cat species. Moreover, after remaining stationary for a certain period, they make extensive movements likely dictated by habitat condition (we recorded straight line daily covered distances of up to 21 km) and for this reason, they become difficult to track over time. Consequently, we are investigating the possibilities to develop and use new tracking systems such as GPS collars (yet unavailble, not enough miniaturised or powerful to follow such a large-range species) or new technologies (LoRa, IoT) to collect more data, but this requires extra fundings.

The Application of new and novel non-invasive techniques to monitor bears (Ursids)

Since 1998, a primary research aim of the fRI Grizzly Bear Program has been to advance and apply non-invasive sampling techniques for population and health monitoring of a Threatened population of grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada. To advance this process, we formed many valuable collaborations between industry, government, and academic institutions. Through combined efforts, our program has contributed to the development of field and laboratory techniques that identify species, sex, and individual animals from hair and scat samples, as well as the statistical techniques to reliably estimate population abundance from marked/detected individuals.
However, in conservation biology, there is a growing need for the development of novel approaches to rapidly and reliably predict adverse effects of human-caused environmental change on individual wild animal health before population performance and abundance is negatively impacted. In response to this need, our program has worked collaboratively to validate hair cortisol concentration as a bio-marker of long-term stress in grizzly bears. Our most recent work has developed new techniques using hair samples collected from non-invasive genetic sampling to reveal the reproductive state of individual grizzly bears (Cattet et al. 2017), another important indicator of the health of wildlife populations. Additionally these new techniques to monitor reproductive hormone profiles within hair allow the identification of age class (mature/immature). Overall, long-term and large-scale monitoring of the physiological state of individuals provides a more comprehensive approach to support management and conservation of threatened and endangered wildlife populations..
At this time we want to use these newly developed techniques to support provincial grizzly bear recovery efforts in Alberta, and to also utilize these same techniques with samples collected from brown bears in Mongolia (Gobi Desert) where there this species is critically endangered having fewer than 25 bears remaining.