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DNA Test – A Grizzly Story

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Wildlife biologists are using DNA tests and DNA testing to help identify, classify and ultimately monitor and protect at-risk wildlife. And what’s great about DNA tests is that scientists don’t have to resort to capturing animals and tagging them – Kalin Kellie and Craig Gardner work for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks; the pair caught 56 grizzly bears in 2007 without laying a finger on one of the animals. This was made possible thanks to developments in DNA and DNA testing. The pair conducted a DNA-based mark and recapture study on the grizzlies using samples from the bears in the same way DNA testing would use samples from humans.

DNA Testing – The Bear Necessities

The biologists used bait surrounded by a tiny strand of barbed wire fence, so as not to hurt the animals. The barbed wire was necessary to catch hair samples from the bears in the upper Yukon-Tanana Bear Control Area east of Tok. The tufts of bear hair could then be used for DNA testing. Gardner was quoted in the Fairbanks Daily News as telling members of the Alaska Board of Game during a presentation on the study: “It’s like a murder mystery. You can use DNA to uniquely identify an individual (bear). All you need is some roots of hair.”

DNA Tests and Analysis: Monitoring, Tracking and Identifying Wildlife

Capturing DNA for DNA testing is already a widely-used technique in Canada, but the bear study was the first time biologists in Alaska had used DNA to track the bears. Rotting pig’s blood and fish parts were used to bait the bears. The study cost $100,000 but is hoped to illustrate how many bears live in the control area after legislation was passed allowing increased harvesting of grizzly bears in the area. Scientists have managed to identify 56 individual grizzly bears using DNA testing and analysis. The study revealed around 150 bears in the area – lower than expected.

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