We don’t usually think dogs are best friends with elephants, whales, hedgehogs, Chinese moon bears, bandicoots, or white-footed voles, but their incredible noses change the lives of these and other endangered species. Dogs are increasingly being used as valuable tools to protect and control endangered species attacking Species that can destroy the habitat for native plants and animals. We hope that when you read about some of the amazing things they can do, you will be inspired to make your dog’s nose work – if not for protection, at least just to give your dog a stimulating activity that provides a great workout for the body and Brain.
- Preventing Elephant Poaching. From 2010 to 2012, poachers killed an average of 33,630 elephants each year, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths across the continent, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, Kenya has significantly reduced the number of animals killed in this country since 2013, thanks in part to US Army software and sniffer dogs.
According to its Canines for Conservation program, the African Wildlife Foundation is fighting the illegal wildlife trade by placing ivory-recognized dogs and their guides at major airports and seaports across the continent. By discovering tiny amounts of ivory or rhinoceros horn dust, officials can prevent traffickers from exporting contraband for wildlife. The dogs are also trained to find weapons, which, because they are difficult to obtain, are typically used by multiple poachers. In his first week of fieldwork, Ruger, a mixed breed dog who works with the Zambian Ministry of National Parks and Wildlife, found 13 guns, putting an estimated 150 poachers out of business.
- Recognize wildlife products. In India, sheepdogs are used to identify products such as tiger skins, ivory tusks, and the bones of endangered birds. They are also trained to locate injured animals, which helps authorities quickly arrest poachers. The program, run jointly by the World Wildlife Fund and a network to monitor wildlife trafficking, aims to train more dogs to reduce poaching across the country.
- Rescue the Australian Koalas. Dogs are rescuing koalas in Australia, where burning bushfires have ravaged the continent and killed more than a billion animals since September 2019. Sniffer dogs are trained to identify koala fur whose scent falls from trees where koalas live. When strong winds, heat, and other conditions are disturbing, the dogs will search for koala scat to determine where the animals have been so human experts can scan and find the appropriate trees.
Some koala-sniffing dogs have become celebrities in their own right, such as Bear, a sniffer dog from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Bear and his handler made several television appearances explaining how the koalas bear finds are being health screened and given medical treatment if necessary. Bear’s obsession is every toy everyone will throw for him. Once he became familiar with the scent of koalas, his rewards for hunting for the toy would come if he successfully reported a “find”.
- Assisting bandicoot populations in their recovery. Five years ago, Werribee Zoo in Victoria, Australia raised funds to train Animal Welfare Dogs (LGDs) to help protect the endangered bandicoot in the east from predators. The bandicoots, small, shy, lonely, nocturnal marsupials, were extinct in the wild but were found in public zoos across Australia and were released in selected locations to restore their populations. Previous attempts to release bandicoots into the wild failed when the animals fell victim to foxes and cats.
Maremma LGD dogs are a breed of animals native to Italy. They can be trained to drive away predators while maintaining a respectful distance from the animals they protect. Before being introduced into bandicoots, Maremma LGDs successfully protected penguin colonies.
- Chasing whales through their poop. On the other side of the world, off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington, a black lab mix named Tucker was leaning over the bow of the research vessel Moja and sniffing the air. His goal? He found orca whale scat, which he could spot in open water up to a mile away and in tiny pieces.
Since scat can sink or disperse in less than half an hour, it’s not easy to find. It’s worth the effort, however, as examining their feces will help researchers study the 85 orcas, or killer whales, that live north of Seattle. The orcas have been tracked for decades, and their decreasing numbers affect scientists.
Unlike other sniffer dogs, Tucker couldn’t just approach his target and sit down to signal a find. He had to lead the boat to the correct area and then wait while the researchers noticed and picked up the material.
There are several scat detection dogs in the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Canine program today, but Tucker holds a special place in program history. By the time Tucker retired at the age of 13 in 2017, he had helped locate the majority of the 348 stool samples analyzed in the Orca research project.
Like the trainers of other odor-seeking dogs around the world, those who work with conservation dogs look for dogs with drive and focus. A flat-coated retriever named Sadie was donated to the program because of her ball addiction. Her owner put Sadie’s ball on the fridge in frustration, and eight hours later Sadie was still sitting there staring at the ball. “When the owner told me this story,” said biology professor Sam Wasser, Ph.D., director of Orca Scat- Research project, “my immediate answer was:” We’ll take it. “
Professor Wasser is the lead author of a study on the challenges facing orcas today. “Lots of whales get pregnant, but they lose a large proportion of their pregnancies,” he said. “You don’t have enough to eat.” The orcas feed primarily on chinook salmon, and as the chinook population declines, their food supply shrinks. Dr. Wasser said when Tucker retired an Australian cattle dog named Jack took his place, but with overfished salmon and less whale watching, Jack may not be as busy as Tucker.
- Find tiny animals for research. Laura Finley is a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who studies fishermen who are part of the weasel family. In Northern California, researchers caught fishermen, anesthetized them, drilled holes in their ears to hold markers and draw blood – and then picked them up repeatedly to monitor their population and area.
There’s an easier way, as demonstrated by a team from the University of Washington when they worked with two dogs for six weeks and found 700 scat samples from fishermen, more than the Wildlife Service could analyze.
A more mysterious target is the white-footed mouse, a rodent so hard to find it’s almost mythical. Native to redwood forests in northern California and parts of Oregon, the vole looks like a mouse but has a rounder head and body. It is believed that this small rodent spends part of its life in trees and part in burrows in the ground.
To help scientists find and study white-footed voles, researchers experimented with various detection methods, including pitfalls and rear-view cameras. Detection dogs can be the most promising method. Wicket, a tracking dog with Working Dogs for Conservation, tracked invasive snails in Hawaii, elephants in Africa, grizzly and black bears in Canada, rare moon bears in China, and invasive Chinese bush clover in Iowa. The researchers hope that wicket and dogs like them will help them understand the place of voles in the redwood ecosystem, in the food chain, and in a slowly changing habitat.
Frehley, a border collie rescued from the Seattle Animal Shelter by Conservation Canines in 2005, learned to track down the endangered salamander of the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico by examining its droppings and part of a broken tail of a salamander.
Hedgehogs are small mammals that thrive in hedges and undergrowth and look for insects there. Despite their porcupine-like appearance, hedgehogs have thousands of soft, smooth spines and are safe for humans to handle. In England, where hedgehog populations are declining, conservation organizations offer advice and support to those who have backyard hedgehogs, keep hedgehogs as pets, want to encourage them in their yards, or want to help injured hedgehogs.
In August 2019 the London Daily Mail reported that Henry, a three-year-old Springer Spaniel, had been trained to track down hidden hedgehogs up to 250 meters away. Henry displays what he has found sitting down, and then his handler comes to investigate. Henry helps rescue hedgehogs threatened by land development projects. Because they live in thick undergrowth and long grass, hedgehogs are in danger wherever land is cleared. The hedgehog project, which runs until May 2020, is overseen by staff from Hartpury University in Gloucester. If the attempt is successful, other dogs will be trained to help conserve the hedgehogs.
- Recognize invasive species. Conservation dogs don’t just chase endangered species. They help identify and prevent the spread of invasive species, both plants and animals.
• According to Darren Ward, Ph.D., who studies ants at the University of Aukland, New Zealand, sniffer dogs have been trained to aid in eradication programs of alien red fire ants in Australia and Taiwan, electric ants in Australia. and small colonies of Argentine ants in New Zealand.
• In 2013, the conehead termite began causing serious damage in Dania Beach, Florida. The Florida Department of Agriculture feared it could spread across the state in the same way that the Formosan termite spread along the South Florida coast. Because this termite moves above the earth, it can spread faster than other species and evade common pest control methods. Connie, a mixed breed dog adopted from a shelter, was chosen for her youth, energy and long legs that help her work in the tall grass. The nests Connie discovered were removed, bagged, and burned or fumigated. So far the termite is under control.
• In the northern United States and Canada, the zebra mussel has invaded lakes, rivers, and wetlands, clogged water pipes, cut swimmers’ feet, disrupted natural ecosystems, and harmed native fish and wildlife. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was one of the first to use sniffer dogs to find these invasive animals. Human inspectors looking for boats being pulled in and out of Minnesota lakes often found zebra mussels missing, making them reproductive and even more disruptive. In 2013 the DNR expanded its team of more than 140 human inspectors to include three mussel detection dogs.
“The dogs will be able to inspect watercraft and ships much faster than humans,” said Travis Muyres, one of the guard dog handlers. “Most of the time, they are more successful because they use their noses instead of their eyes.”
In Canada, concerns about zebra and quagga mussels have made inspections mandatory for all watercraft, from stand-up paddleboards to motorboats. The inspection teams in Alberta now include three clam sniffers.
• In Australia’s Kosciuszko National Park, a pretty perennial threatens agriculture and the environment. The orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), comes from Europe and belongs to the daisy family. It grows near the ground in remote alpine areas with leaves in a flat circular pattern. Hawkweed was sold as an ornamental plant in New South Wales because of its attractive flowers. However, when it became naturalized and recognized as a threat to native species, conservationists focused on eradicating the plant. To help human inspectors find and destroy the plants, two “botanical pups” are on duty.
In 2016, weed control officer and dog handler Hillary Cherry explained the project to ABC News in Australia. “The dogs can tell one plant from another,” she said. “We did an assessment the other day and we were walking through thick brush and one of the dogs quickly turned, ran back, put its nose under a large, thick piece of brush and found a piece of hawkweed seedlings. We could never have found it. The dog’s ability is so strong and powerful that it blows us away every time. “
CJ Puotinen, who lives in Montana, is the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and other books. For more information on books, see “Resources”, page 24.