As they say, dogs are a man’s best friend, but they can also be a best friend to endangered species. The amazing capabilities of dogs as protectors and investigators have been put to the test in countless ways, and we celebrate a few of them here. Click through to find out about amazing dogs protecting penguins, hunting down poachers, and sniffing out scat for scientists.
Bloodhounds Track Poachers
Bloodhounds have been used in Kenya to track down poachers, and with great success. Richard Bonham is the founder of the Maasailand Preservation Trust, an organization that patrols 1.5 million acres of land in southeast Kenya protecting wildlife like rhinos and elephants from poachers. But he couldn’t do it without the aid of these talented sniffers. “The bloodhounds definitely have a big impact on poaching. They are a very effective tool,” he told the Times Online back in 2009 when two new recruits, Pension and Drastic, arrived from Britain in Kenya. The article notes that “Bloodhounds have been responsible for the arrests of dozens of poachers in Kenya, saving countless wild animals.”
Malenois Attack the Poaching Problem
It’s one thing if you’re a poacher to have bloodhounds tracking you down, but what if you had Belgian Malenois trained to attack close on your heels? Hopefully it’s enough to get you to surrender! That’s exactly the hope of conservationists who have trained Malenois to find and take down poachers who are in turn tracking down rhinos, including Jack who is being trained by StopRhinoPoaching.com, and Toby and Russell working in Kruger National Park and Pilansberg National Park respectively. Poachers sometimes work in groups, with armed members of the group lying in wait to ambush any field rangers who try to stop poaching in action. The malenois are important for rangers, acting as both an early warning and distraction against poachers so the rangers a better chance to catch the criminals.
Springer Spaniel Protects Penguins
In New South Wales where the population of little penguins has dropped sharply, the Australian Wildlife Services is using scent tracking dogs to find and monitor the birds, including Eco, an English Springer Spaniel featured in the video above. Researchers hope that by finding and tracking the birds, which hide out during the day in their burrows, they can protect them from predators like dogs, cats and foxes, and habitat loss. Eco can cover an area in one hour that would normally take 10 humans four hours to cover. Talk about productive!
Pepin Battles Tiny Invasive Plants
What dogs are able to sniff out is truly amazing. Check out Pepin, a malinois with Working Dogs for Conservation, who finds one tiny leaf in a great big field, all just in a day’s work of helping combat an invasive plant species in Montana’s grasslands.
In 2010, WWF put scent-working dogs to the test tracking tigers. The dogs were trained by University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology and were tasked with sniffing out tiger scat, which was then studied by scientists to learn more about the dwindling tiger population in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia. They were an invaluable part of the project, and the whole effort is documented on the Mekong Tiger Blog.
Maremmas Are a Bird’s Best Friend
Back in 2009, we reported on a colony of fairy penguins on Warrnambool’s Middle Island off the south coast of Australia that had earned the aid of two Maremmas, an Italian breed of sheepdog that bonds with the flock or herd of animals it is protecting. The penguin colony had dwindled dramatically due to attacks by foxes and wild dogs. However, their numbers are rising again thanks to their new bodyguards, and as of December, the “experiment” has been going for seven years and is still proving to be a smart move on the part of conservationists. The same man whose “crazy” idea it was to use Maremmas to protect penguins has now also helped apply the strategy to protecting Australasian gannets. Maremmas turn out to be both man and bird’s best friend alike.
Whales and Tails
The sense of smell of a dog should never be underestimated. They can even find whale scat in the great blue sea! Yep, that’s right. A dog named Tucker is trained to sniff out orca scat off the coast of Washington. Found as a stray in Seattle, Tucker proved he has an unmatched talent in helping scientists research an endangered population of 85 killer whales that frequent the area.
Check out this great video news story by the New York Times about the work that Tucker does in tracking down orca scat.
Dogs Protecting Cats
An important part of protecting endangered predators, such as cheetahs and lions, is keeping them out of trouble in the first place. Livestock guardian dogs perform just such a task. This Anatolian shepherd keeps cheetahs away from livestock, and keeps the cats away from the farmers that may kill them to protect their herds. The dogs won’t attack the cats, but will scare them off. The Cheetah Conservation Fund has lead the way with research and implementation of the strategy, and cheetah mortality is, thankfully, dropping.
Dogs Helping Brazil’s Best
Four scent-working dogs have been part of an important project to help iconic species in Brazil, including jaguars, tapirs, giant anteaters, and maned wolves in and around Emas National Park, which according to Conservation International has the largest concentration of threatened species in Brazil. From 2006 to 2008, the dogs were a key part of data collection for a study that helped researchers learn more about the species by finding scat that revealed everything from diet to parasites to genetic identity. Thanks to the dogs’ help, conservationists were able to learn more about what the species need to survive, and that information can be used toward conservation plans.
The Nose Knows
In fact, tracking down evidence of endangered species is one of the biggest ways dogs help conservationists. Here are just a few of the species working dogs have already been trained to find, according to Dogs for Conservation:
Bird and Bat Mortality at wind farms
Individual Siberian Tigers
Spotted Knapweed Invasions
Ringed Seal lairs and breathing holes
Discriminate between individual Maned Wolves from scat
Right Whale Faeces
Sea Turtle Nests
Invasive Pythons in the Everglades
Detector dogs are used everywhere from airports in Africa to deter rhino horn trafficking to Ecuador where they sniff out illegally-caught shark fins!
Two amazing organizations for training and working dogs for conservation purposes are Working Dogs for Conservation and Conservation Canines from University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology.
Both adopt and train rescue shelter dogs that boast qualities that made them impossible as pets: an insatiable play drive, which makes them want to work; constant energy, because they’re working hard for hours and hours on end; and obsessiveness, which keeps them searching for a needle in a haystack so they may earn the object of their obsession, usually a ball or tug toy.
The organizations not only give these dogs a second chance at life, but give them an incredibly important and fun job to do! If you’re interested in helping these organizations and the work they do, check out their websites to find out how you can support them.
By Jaymi Heimbuch, TreeHugger