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Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation
A blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Photo: Mark Statham/UC Davis)
Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

A black-and-white dog sits in the desert, concentrating on the tracks of lizards. Seamus, a trained detection dog, alerts his handler to the presence of excrement.

Trained conservation dogs have been used to locate faeces and collect DNA samples for everything from bears and foxes to gorillas and whales. But the technique had not been used for reptiles until recently when scientists developed a novel approach to identify the presence of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the Panoche Hills Recreation Area and Carrizo Plain National Monument in the USA.

They have developed new methods to recover DNA from faeces and genetically identify lizard species in the same area; and their study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is a proof of concept for a host of reptiles.

The researchers claim that detection dogs trained to sniff out the faeces of endangered lizards – combined with genetic species identification – could represent a new, non-invasive sampling technique for lizard conservation worldwide.

Current methods for surveying lizard species typically rely on live capture or visual surveys. Excrement sampling allows biologists to study elusive, rare or dangerous animals without the need for direct contact. In addition to informing about the presence, habitat and genetics of an animal, faeces can also be analysed to inform researchers about diet, hormones, parasites and other health factors.

Using the new method, the authors genetically identified specific species for 78 per cent of the 327 samples collected by dog-handler teams across four years. Most (82%) of those identified were confirmed as being from blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

To meet regulatory monitoring requirements, more research is needed to assess the viability of using detection dogs to recover usable DNA on a larger scale. But the research highlights the broad potential this method holds for surveying and monitoring reptiles.

The study from the University of California, Davis, was published in partnership with the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation, US Geological Survey and the US Bureau of Land Management, which organisation also funded the work.

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BEVA gives vets access to free membership for three months

News Story 1
 BEVA has announced that it is cutting membership renewal charges for the next three months in order to support all veterinary professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Memberships for all existing BEVA members will be extended until 30 June 2020. Veterinary professionals who are not members of BEVA will also be able to sign up for a free membership until 30 June 2020.

BEVA president Tim Mair said: "In this extraordinary time of global crisis our profession, as with many industries, is under immense pressure. By offering free membership we are giving equine vets easy access to a wealth of supportive resources and online CPD."

To sign up please visit the BEVA website.

Image (c) BEVA. 

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LOVE Gorgie Farm seeking veterinary volunteers

LOVE Gorgie Farm in Edinburgh is looking for people with veterinary and animal care experience, who would be interested in volunteering to help care for its animals during these difficult times.

The community-owned charity farm opened to the public only last month, but decided to close temporarily amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Its three-person team is working to care for the animals behind the scenes and the farm is now operating as a food bank for the public, delivering free breakfasts to local school children.

In an effort to build a contingency plan to secure the welfare of its animals, LOVE Gorgie Farm is looking for volunteers who would be able to step in if any team members fell sick or needed to self-isolate.

Those interested in volunteering are asked to contact gorgie@l-o-v-e.org.uk