Molecular Scatology as a Conservation tool

Laura E. Farrell

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138;


The threat of predation on livestock by large carnivores represents a major impediment to

the conservation of intact ecosystems throughout the world. Although it has taken nearly a

century to learn the truth about predation on livestock in North America, advanced technologies

now exist to greatly expedite similar findings elsewhere. By examining the dietary

ecology of puma and jaguar on a cattle ranch in the Venezuelan llanos, it is possible to help

identify simple, effective methods to reduce livestock predation. In my study, dietary habits

of the puma and jaguar were defined from feces (scats), kills, and ranch records. Scats were

assigned to predator species through analysis of mitochondrial DNA from feces of wild

carnivores. Based on dietary and ecological data of these two large carnivores, recommendations

on livestock husbandry are made.