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DNA Poo-Tracking

The okapi is a hard-to-find animal, distantly related to giraffes, that lives in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Elizabeth Preston writes at Inkfish, a common adjective ascribed to okapi is "elusive."

So rather than trying to track down this shy animal, Cardiff University's David Stanton and his colleagues collected feces it left behind for DNA analysis. Of the 208 samples they collected from throughout the Okapi Faunal Reserve in the DRC, the researchers were able to generate consensus genotypes for 105 samples, which were confirmed to be from okapi. 

Based on the locations where samples were collected and the relatedness between the samples, the researchers were able to draw a few conclusions about okapi, as they report in the Journal of Zoology.

For instance, Stanton and his colleagues determined that okapi are mostly solitary — with the exception of mothers and offspring — as feces from related animals were not in closer proximity to each other than feces from unrelated animals were and that they tended to stay within a small home area, though males tended to wander farther. Additionally, they found that okapi likely polygamous or promiscuous as they uncovered a number of half-siblings among their samples, but only one set of full siblings.

"Okapi are endangered, and knowing more about their lifestyle can help humans protect them," notes Preston.