University of Arizona doctoral candidate Ashwin Naidu is a cat lover. Specifically, mountain lions and bobcats.

“In Arizona, we’re really lucky we have mountain lions and bobcats in our backyards,” Naidu says.

Naidu, with the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, is studying mountain lions and bobcats in the area. The research includes applying non-invasive genetics for wildlife conservation, particularly wildcats.

He says rarely is such species diversity found in such a small area. The cat species inhabiting the state are mountain lions, jaguars, ocelots and bobcats.

Non-invasive genetics means the researchers do not come into physical contact with the animals. Instead, they extract DNA samples from hair and fecal matter, also known as “scat,” or from any sample left behind by the animal.

Scat is a gold mine of information, Naidu says. The information available from scat samples includes DNA to determine the species, sex and what the animal ate.

Analyzing scat is also useful for determining how many individual cats are in a particular area, he says. Researching the unique genotypes from the scat samples, over time, can tell scientists the approximate population of a species. This information is important to conservation work.

Naidu says the UA recently established the "Wildcat Center" with the objective of helping conserve the world’s 36 species of wildcats.

*Ashley Grove is a journalism student at the University of Arizona and is an intern for Arizona Public Media."