“Scatological Science: How Poo Analysis Could Help Save Endangered Species”
by Anne Pinto-Rodrigues
The Guardian, November 5, 2020
Using poop to identify & protect endangered Asian primate species
This is a pitch from Southeast Asia about the conservation of endangered primates. In June 2020, a paper was released in Nature about how three primates spread across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, identified as sub-species of the Banded Langur in the 19th and 20th century, are actually species in themselves. This conclusion was reached after sequencing of their entire genome, from the genetic material found in their fecal samples.
Two of the three newly identified species – Raffles’ banded langur and the East Sumatran banded langur – are critically endangered. This makes them two of the rarest primates in the world. The third, the Robinson’s banded langur, is classified as Near Threatened. This study is crucial as it points to the fact that several (wrongly classified) sub-species of primates / mammals, which are actually species, could be slipping into extinction without any attention or efforts to protect them.
Other reasons why I think the story is important:
1) In general, there’s very little focus on Asian primates (with the exception of the orang utan), as compared to African primates
2) This study was led by two Asian female primatologists – Dr. Angie Ang from Singapore, (who works on the Raffles Banded Langur in the city-state) and Dr. Dewi Imelda Roesma from Indonesia (who works on the East Sumatra Banded Langur)
3) Non-invasive methods like fecal testing are a great alternative to invasive methods like blood sampling or radio collaring.
Dr. Andie Ang’s work with the Raffles’ banded langur (about 350 individuals left in the wild in Singapore and Malaysia) has helped to protect its habitat in Singapore – a new protected area was declared in 2019. It has also led to improvement of its habitat, with planting of trees which are part of the primate’s diet. She has also been able to confirm that the populations of the Raffles Banded Langur in Singapore and Malaysia belong to the same species, so could potentially be translocated to improve genetic diversity.
Would a piece about the identification of these three new primate species and their conservation, be of interest? For this piece, I could interview the primatologists involved with the study as well as other primate conservation experts.
Looking forward to your thoughts on this.
(she / her)