DEPLOYING NEW TECHNIQUES TO TRACK LOST SPECIES

Cobus Theron, Manager, EWT Drylands Conservation Programme

CobusT@ewt.org.za

The hope of finding the De Winton’s Golden Mole is almost as transient as the mist that passes through the dunes of the West Coast. This particular mole, last seen in 1937, is considered a lost species (see Lostspecies.org). The prospect of finding this creature and proving its existence is an appealing proposition but does not come without significant challenges. The EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme is however up for the challenge. We will be teaming up with the University of Pretoria, to use new approaches and innovative technologies to attempt to find out if this species still inhabits the dunes of the West coast.

The De Winton’s Golden Mole is listed as Critically Endangered. It’s dune habitat, in the region of Port Nolloth, is under severe pressure from mining activities. Information on the species is extremely limited and the species is easily confused with Grant’s Golden Mole (which occupies similar environments) on the West Coast. Dune dwelling moles do not leave tunnels and are thus very difficult to locate or trap. Given these challenges, new approaches are required, if we want to find this species.

In November 2019, Global Wildlife Conservation, through their Lost Species expedition project, made a small grant available to the EWT to investigate new approaches for finding the species. The Drylands Conservation Programme will be teaming up with the Samantha Mynhart from the University of Pretoria and will pilot the use of an Environmental DNA (E-DNA) technique to sift through sand samples collected in the dunes near Port Nolloth. If successful, E-DNA techniques will allow us to detect skin cells shed by the moles as they move through the sand. This will enable us to confirm the presence of any of the golden mole species occurring here.

We will commence this project in March 2020 when we embark on a Lost Species expedition up the West Coast to collect samples for analysis. If the results are positive, we could not only rediscover the species, but we will also narrow down the search area for future conservation actions. Watch this space!