A Little Saliva Goes a Long Way

By Stephanny Arroyo Arce
Field Biologist, Panthera Costa Rica


As an organization, Panthera is constantly developing and implementing new and innovative techniques to  better understand — and protect — the magnificent but elusive  animals we work with. 

Genetic monitoring techniques are rapidly evolving and provide us valuable information about connectivity, genetic health, diseases and ecology. For our Wild Cat Genetics Project in Costa Rica, we’ve collected a variety of DNA samples (mainly feces, but also tissue, blood and bones) with the goal of studying genetic diversity within jaguar populations and to see if these populations are isolated or connected. Recently, with the help of conservation research fellow Dr. Claudia Wultsch, we’ve added a new sampling approach to our tool box! We now collect saliva residue left behind by predators through bite marks as they feed on their prey, like marine turtles or occasionally livestock.

Identifying puncture wounds on a green turtle in Tortuguero NP.

Saliva residue, and the DNA traces isolated from them, provide the opportunity to identify species, sex, and even the individual responsible for the predation event. This DNA-based evidence will hopefully help to avoid wrongful persecution of certain species in instances of livestock predation, and will also allow us to detect other scavenger species interacting with the carcass.


The first samples for this study, collected with our collaborating partner Coastal Jaguar Conservation, are mainly from green turtles (Chelonia mydas) killed on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park, located in the north-eastern Costa Rica. We expect to have our first results later this year, and hope to learn more about these elusive critters and their prey. Who would have thought that something as simple as saliva could help wild cat conservation? We’ll be sure to update you on what we find — and as our technological toolbox continues to expand!