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One of SCI Foundation’s partners, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, is using clever techniques to learn what types of wildlife inhabit Vietnam’s jungle. Leeches. Yes, leeches have been recruited as field technicians to collect blood for science.
Blood contains the genetic material of an animal. Through genetic technology, blood can be used to identify a species and even the individual animal of a species. Leeches have all of a sudden become a best friend to scientists, providing blood samples of passer-by ungulates. The leeches are easily collected from all parts of the jungle in the Central Annamite Range and provide a vast array of samples of the forest’s biodiversity. Trail cameras are also used to detect the presence of animals over large areas.
We recently checked in with the research team to see how the project is progressing. Here is the latest news!
Researchers deployed trail cameras at 39 locations in the Bach Ma Nature Preserve. They also used adjacent areas for teams to systematically collect leeches for analysis.
A detailed habitat assessment was completed at each station. Researchers recorded data on vegetation density, canopy cover, and forest structure characteristics. By incorporating this data into models, researchers will learn more about wildlife-habitat relationships in this region—specifically what habitat characteristics influence ungulates. In addition, the teams recorded evidence of threats, including snares and direct encounters with poachers.
The most significant records to date are multiple images of various IUCN Globally Threatened ungulate or data deficient species that were detected during the surveys. Two of these ungulate species, the Annamite Dark Muntjac and the Serow (miniature antlered mammals; the muntjac resembles a fawn and the serow looks similar to a goat), are most often targeted by poaching. The presence of healthy populations of these endemic species in Bach Ma NP suggests that the area still has important conservation value for ungulate research, though more data is needed.
Researchers collected two species of leeches, brown leech and tiger leech, during the surveys because they likely have different species-preferences. Analysis of gut meals from these species will help determine the identity of species that cannot be identified by camera trapping alone. Analysis is expected to begin in June 2015.
Work at the second study site, the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves, will begin in September 2015. SCI Foundation will keep you updated as the Leibniz Institute’s research team further analyzes the leech collected blood samples.