Science on Tap Coeur d’Alene: Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Thursday, April 30 2009

April 30, 2009

Written by Ken Kingery

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – Lisette Waits was slightly out of her comfort zone as she awkwardly learned to ride a horse, accompanied by a graduate student and four machete-carrying jaguar hunters – including Brazil’s most infamous poacher – through the jungles of Brazil.

But to Waits, academic faculty in the University of Idaho’s Fish and Wildlife Resources Department, the adventure in the name of science is well worth the risk.

Waits’ research on large carnivores takes her around the world to track populations using their genetic profiles. The Brazilian adventure is just one of many she will use to highlight her research at this month’s Science on Tap Coeur d’Alene. The final monthly event of the academic year takes place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, at the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Company located at 209 Lakeside Ave.

“The ability to conduct CSI-like research using DNA has completely changed wildlife science,” said Waits, whose research experiences range from Andean bears in South America and snow leopards in Asia to wolves here in Idaho. “We now can count entire populations, identify individuals and even trace lineage without even seeing the animals.”

Waits and collaborators from the Nez Perce tribe, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the University of Montana have spent the last two summers using these techniques to study northern Idaho wolf packs. A team of students and biologists use computer models to predict where wolf packs will leave their pups while hunting. They then head into the field to search for hair and fecal samples from the potential sites.

Using the gathered genetic material, the team can determine how many individual wolves are in the pack, the gender of each, their age groups and even which ones bred to produce pups.

To learn more about this exciting field of study, and to hear more wild stories from the field, don’t miss this Science on Tap Coeur d’Alene.

“My research is interesting and exciting, especially never knowing when the jaguar I’m chasing might jump out of a tree and on to my head,” said Waits.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

About the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research
NWABR is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to promote the understanding of biomedical research, and the applications and implications of that research. NWABR's member organizations include over 80 universities, research institutes and hospitals, voluntary health associations, professional societies and biotechnology organizations in Washington and Oregon. Our goals are to educate the Northwest community about the process by which research advances, and to empower citizens to make informed choices on issues related to biomedical research. For information about the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research contact Susan Adler, Executive Director, at (206) 957-3337 or

About Idaho TechConnect Incorporated
Idaho TechConnect Inc. (ITCI) is a science and technology-focused business development organization for start-ups and early stage technology ventures for the State of Idaho. ITCI helps identify resources that help improve the speed and probability of success for these ventures. 

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit