BENGALURU: A team of researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) are using hair shed of tigers to create a genetic database and pedigree of striped cats at Ranthambore Reserve in Rajasthan.
So far, NCBS studied the gene pool using tiger pelts, blood and tissue samples. But now they are using shed hair. In the study titled ‘Are shed hair genomes the most effective non-invasive resource for estimating relationships in the wild?’ the researchers collected 34 tiger hair samples in Ranthambore during a 256-day study period.
Lead author and research scholar at NCBS Anubhab Khan told TNIE that this was the first-of-its kind of study and the next step of what the team was studying so far. “Earlier, tissue and blood samples were used, but getting them was a challenge. We even started direct observation. But since tigers are elusive, we decided to use shed hair for studying genetic database and DNA mapping,” he said. “Tigers shed hair while scratching, sitting, resting and so on. We found them to be a good sample base for the study. It helped us get precise data because it was also verified with the tissue samples collected
Spread over an area of 392 sq km, Ranthambore is best known for its tigress Machli (T-16), which died in August 2016. Many, including forest officials, state that most of the tigers in Ranthambore are her lineage and NCBS is studying that.
Khan said two new lineages were reported. “In case of T-47, we did not know anything, after the study we found its mother was related to Machli. As for T-24, we have so far found its mother’s side has no connection to Machli. Now the father’s side is being studied to draw the family tree,” he said. “NCBS has around 106 tiger DNA sequences; of these, 100 sequences are from around the world and 60 from India.”
The researchers are also studying tigers in Similipal National Park, Odisha, and Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, where many cattle kill cases are reported, with the same method.
What is tiger shed?
Like many other mammals, tigers shed their fur or hair once or twice per year. The tiger has a longer winter coat and a shorter summer coat. Hairs are also shed by the bigs cats when they scratch on trees or even while sitting on the ground.