Expedition in Tai forest to collect pygmy hippo pooh samples for gender analyis by conservation detection dogs: will the smell give us the answers?

Preparation and challenges of this mission

The preparation of the field data collection mission started with the purchase of field equipment, the refilling of nitrogen cylinders and the rental of a private vehicle by Herman, who is the coordinator of this unique mission to collect pygmy hippo pooh samples in different regions of Tai Forest National Park. We hope that this will ultimately learn us more about the presence and distribution of male and female pygmy hippopotami throughout Tai Forest.

Refilling of liquid nitrogen by Herman
Cryotubes (5 ml) that are used specifically for the collection and international transfer of the samples to the conservation detection dogs











Rental of a private vehicle needed safe transport of liquid nitrogen to the remote forest areas
Nitrogen cylinder of 5 liters



















This operation is a very challenging one as it requires the usage of liquid nitrogen throughout Tai forest and thus a vehicle was needed for the safe transport of this harzardour liquid to Tai National Park. In addition, an additional field assistant was hired specifically for this project. This new team member could be responsible for carrying the liquid nitrogen to the different collections sites in the forest where no vehicle access is possible.









Some pictures showing the difficulty in accessing the study site

















Actual start of the mission in March 2022

The first two pygmy hippo pooh collection missions took place from 12 to 22 March 2022 in the ADK-V6 sector and from 24 March to 30 March 2022 in the Taï sector. The ADK-V6 sector team consisted of two agents from the Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Réserves (OIPR), two field assistants, and our coordinator. The Taï Sector team consisted of one OIPR agent, two field assistants and our coordinator.

ADK-V6 Sector Team













The droppings collected in the different sectors were put in liquid nitrogen once arrived at the base camp (place located at the edge of a river in full forest, where we spend the night).

Collection of pygmy hippopotamus droppings
Collection of pygmy hippopotamus droppings









Samples collected in the sector Taï
Samples transferred into the liquid nitrogen

















The handling of the droppings upon detection, the placing in liquid nitrogen on the sampling site and the placing at temperature -80°C was done carefully by the coordinator;  up to the end of March a total of 7 droppings were collected in the ADK-V6 sector and 5 droppings in the Tai sector.

Conservation of samples

On return to Abidjan, the collected droppings were stored in a cryobox and then put at a temperature of -80°c in the laboratory of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire (CSRS). Here, the samples will stay till more samples are added from the next field missions in different forest regions. Once these missions are complete the next part of the journey can start… safe travel of the samples to the Conservation dogs in the Netherlands.



Putting the collected samples (cryotubes) in a cryobox















In the mean time, in the Netherlands..the conservation dogs are already being trained to recognize the distinct smell of male and female pygmy hippo pooh (with pooh donated by several EAZA Zoos) and once the samples from Tai forest arrive they will be well trained and ready to start their real work!