Djerassi Ranch Puma! | Leonardo/ISAST

Djerassi Ranch Puma!

By Vidhu Aggarwal

Artist Leah Dyjak asked fellow Djerassi “Science Delirium” residents to come up with signs for unmarked trails at the Ranch. Mine is “Follow #Puma Scat,” after my fascination for the mysteriously reticent bobcat that avoids humans—probably a good thing for both animals! We have only seen the slinky pumas in images captured on night-vision infared cameras scattered throughout the trails: electric negatives of brightly lit-up fur and eyes in a hazy surround.

Yesterday, I tagged along with biomedical video artist Kathy High on a trip to AnimalBiome, a startup that examines the microbiome of domestic cats as a way to treat diseases affecting our feline pets. After talking to the inspiring lead microbiologist at AnimalBiome, Holly Ganz—who has actually studied the scat of the puma to map its microbiome—I discovered that it’s notoriously hard to track and isolate puma scat. Their latrines are hidden away, so captured animals are the best source. In other words, my sign challenges the hiker to an impossible task.  Nevertheless, scientists are following wild animal scat for what it reveals about gut flora, digestion, immunity and host of issues important to the health of all of us animals, wild and domesticated. So follow #pumascat and get lost on the trail. And follow animal.biome for their work with our feline friends!