Programme Manager, Drylands Conservation Programme, Endangered Wildlife Trust
"Re:wild and EWT are here to show that in a world of overwhelming bad news for the planet there is still hope and opportunity to capture people's imagination, save species and celebrate our wild places."
Cobus Theron is leading the search for De Winton’s Golden Mole, one of Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted lost species. The mole hasn’t been seen since 1936, and if the species isn’t extinct, time may be running out to protect it from threats that could cause it to disappear forever.
Cobus and his team have been scouring the west coast of South Africa, from Lambert’s Bay to Port Nolloth, searching for telltale bulges in the sand created by golden moles.
“It's a very long coastline, it's probably over 400 kilometers in length,” says Cobus. “Some of the coast, there are pockets that are absolutely beautiful, and it just takes your breath away.”
Cobus and his team are taking eDNA samples from beaches along the coast where they have found signs of golden moles, but are unsure which species made them.
All animals shed their DNA as they go through the environment,” explains Cobus. “Each species of golden mole has a unique DNA sequence. We have demonstrated that we are able to extract mole eDNA from the sand and identify it.
“It really is a new frontier for the detection of cryptic and elusive species, and I am interested in developing the opportunity that eDNA can contribute to the conservation of terrestrial species," says Cobus.
And if the team finds a location with lots of golden mole activity, they may collect many soil samples to test. During summer 2021, while searching beaches near Port Nolloth, they collected more than 120 soil samples.
“One has to be realistic,” he says. “We are trying to do what has taken other researchers decades. We’re not going to walk up and dig it out on the first go. But that being said, they tried traditional approaches, and that’s the problem — those are very intense in terms of time and effort. If these new techniques work, we can get things done quicker and survey more sites without staying in the field for weeks and weeks.”