What do Boykin Spaniels and Eastern Box Turtles have in common?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
These gorgeous dogs, which are both high energy and eager to please, use their natural hunting and retrieving abilities to sniff out the box turtles, and they can do it much faster than a team of humans. Illusive elusive
Last summer, eight Boykin spaniels helped out with a research project conducted by the University of Illinois’s College of Veterinary Medicine, led by Matt Allender, a visiting instructor. They were looking for turtles at two different parks in Vermilion County.
The spaniels are owned by John Rucker, who lives in a tiny house in Tennessee with no power or running water. Ten years ago, he discovered that his beloved spaniel had a knack for finding box turtles.
From The News-Gazette:
“The whole turtle thing — it just came out of nowhere,” says Rucker, whose subsequent Boykins have continued to pick up the knack. Eventually, researchers learned of Rucker and his turtle-sniffing dogs.
He spends up to six months a year taking the dogs to jobs that include research as well as rescue purposes. His next stop is Indiana, where he and the dogs will spend about a month rescuing turtles by helping officials find as many as possible for temporary relocation prior to an Interstate highway expansion project.
According to Rucker, Boykins are great because they don’t mind thickets, they don’t overheat easily, and their jaws aren’t powerful enough to hurt the turtles.
But why are these researchers so interested in Eastern Box Turtles?
It turns out there are two reasons: the first is to prevent the extinction of this turtle, whose numbers are declining, and which is now officially listed as vulnerable to disappearing. The second is to use the health status of the turtles to gain a picture of the environmental health of the area where they are living, since they stay in relatively small ranges.
As Allender puts it: “Saving the world one box turtle at a time.” He goes on to explain the work with the Boykins will help his research into health threats to the turtles, like a ranavirus he discovered in a Tennessee turtle in 2003. Allender carried out the longest and largest health assessment of box turtles anywhere in the world when he was working in Tennessee.
Once they have the turtles in hand, Allender and his researchers draw blood from each turtle and gather other medical data before marking and releasing them.
But they couldn’t do it without these dogs, who love their work. Allender explains that the days the spaniels don’t find turtles, they get a little depressed, a little sad!
What a heartwarming story!
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