Zoos are a weird place. One one hand the animals are rather interesting and cute (or terrifying). Like elephants smashing pumpkins during spooky season. But there are also conflicting opinions on whether they are “ethical” places for animals. Either way, most of us have been to one at some point in time. And if you can’t remember anything else about a zoo, you can certainly remember its smell. It’s a conglomeration of animal funk, poop, and general weirdness. Pinpointing it to certain animals might be hard, depending on where you are in the zoo. But scientists have found a way to tell exactly which animals are in a zoo based on DNA samples in the air. (Thanks to Gizmodo for bringing this news to our attention.)
This new finding comes from a 2021 UK research study, led by molecular ecologist Dr. Elizabeth Clare, examining environmental DNA. The study started with testing rat DNA in a burrow’s airspace to discover if it truly tells what’s going on with them. This new testing at zoos in Denmark and England was able to ID 74 species within those facilities.
So, why is detecting zoo animal DNA important? What is the point of it all? Well, it means that different species, including those going extinct, can be tracked and documented with greater accuracy. Scientists will be able to understand ecosystems and help with putting proper conservation methods in place to aid species with low numbers in the wild.
Of course, the best place to start testing this was in a zoo because of its relatively contained environment and biodiversity. And we are pretty sure that they could smell the lions, tigers, and bears from a mile away. No worries though. We still love you, zoo buddies, and want you to have the best life possible, even if you are putting lots of smells and DNA into the air.