Service dogs have important jobs — guiding the blind, hearing for the deaf, sniffing out drugs and bombs, and helping the police catch the bad guys. Now there’s a new dog in town: Conservation dogs track endangered wildlife, helping researchers protect dying animal species.
The secret? It’s all in the poo.
Human conservations track rare and endangered wildlife species so they can monitor their habits, breeding and populations. Having a four-legged assistant makes the job much easier.
According to Louise Wilson, director of Conservation Dogs in Britain:
“Some estimates suggest that [the dogs’] sense of smell is at least 100,000 times more sensitive than ours. As a result, scat detection dogs have been able to demonstrate greater success at locating scats than human search teams using visual detection. Research suggests that dogs are at least 96% effective.”
After collecting samples of local endangered species’ scat, handlers train the conservation dogs to recognize each animal’s scent.
“Each animal’s scat contains DNA specific to it,” Wilson says. “By collecting scat samples, we can help get a population count for a location. This allows conservationists to formulate an estimate for a larger area.”
Another organization, Working Dogs for Conservation, is based in Montana. The group says that finding the signs of at-risk wildlife — hair, urine, feces — is sometimes just as difficult as finding the wildlife itself, especially in areas with rugged terrain. The group relies on detection dogs trained to detect endangered animals as well as invasive species of plants.
In this video, executive director Megan Parker demonstrates how Pepin works in the field.
Depending on the geographical location, conservation dogs are trained to sniff out endangered species of bats, great crested newts, natterjack toads, desert tortoises, bobcats, fisher cats, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, and wolves, among other species.
Although conservation dogs can be of any breed, just like other service dogs, Labrador Retrievers and springer spaniels seem to have a natural flair for their jobs. Personally, I’d like to see a conservation Dachshund. After all, they were bred to hunt down badgers — they could certainly hold their own against a natterjack toad!