Monday, March 3, 2014

Conservation Detection Dogs

Seamus rewarded by trainer. Photo by Elizabeth Stone -
I have long dreamed of having a dog that could sniff out morel mushrooms, much like the famous truffle-sniffing pigs of Europe.  It turns out that there are lots of dogs used in ecological research to sniff out other more valuable finds.  Seamus who is pictured above is getting a reward from trainer Dalit Guscio for tracking down invasive Dyers woad plants in Montana.

Detector dogs have been used to locate desert tortoises, identify scats from different species, conduct searches for invasive weeds, and perform a number of other research services.  On Maui, these eco-dogs search out invasive animals that prey on native tree snails: the cannibalistic rosy wolf snail and Jackson’s chameleon.

The University of Washington began using Conservation canines in 1997, working with the Department of Corrections that had experience with drug sniffing dogs.  They are using scat sensing dogs to find samples which can be tested for genetic, physiological, toxicological and dietary indicators.  They have been used to monitor populations as diverse as tigers, spotted owls, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, jaguars, down to Pacific pocket mice.

"The ideal scat detection dog is intensely focused and has an insatiable urge to play. Their obsessive, high-energy personalities make them difficult to maintain as a family pet, so they often end up at the shelter with euthanasia the most likely outcome. The single-minded drive of these dogs makes them perfect Conservation Canines. They are happy to work all day traversing plains, climbing up mountains, clambering over rocks and fallen trees, and trekking through snow, all with the expectation of reward – playing with their ball – after successfully locating wildlife scat. We rescue these dogs and offer them a satisfying career traveling the world to help save numerous other species."
The Oregon Wildlife Institute has been using detector dogs since 2007 when they began searching for Kincaid’s lupine, a rare prairie wildflower of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Since then they have assisted in searches for Swainson’s thrush nests and western pond turtles.

There are a number of organizations that train and supply conservation detection dogs.  I still dream of finding a morel sniffing dog.  Meanwhile, if you are interested in a dog that can sniff out the hind end of any dog in the neighborhood, let me know.

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