Working Dogs for Conservation

Wicket, world traveler and famous for finding 18 different targets, so far
Photo courtesy of WDC

Say a state wildlife manager needs to assess the population of grizzly bears in Montana. Or an invasive plant is spreading rapidly and BLM is targeting areas for eradication. In this high tech age do we address these conservation survey challenges with smart phones and apps? How about using the olfactory talents of dogs? For the past twelve years an organization called Working Dogs for Conservation has been helping to monitor endangered wildlife, define wildlife corridors and facilitate the eradication of invasive species.
As the world faces persistent declines in populations of rare and threatened species, the need has grown for non-invasive wildlife surveying methods. Teams of biologists and highly trained dogs are able to cover large areas and rugged terrain to uncover vital information about populations of rare animals without trapping them or even changing their behaviors.
The dogs are trained using methods proven in canine search and rescue, forensic and narcotics work. They are conditioned to associate the odor of the target with a highly prized reward. Dogs that excel at this work are extremely high energy, with an obsessive play drive and unrelenting toy focus. Many of the dogs prized by the organization were rescued from shelters.
Biologists can learn a great deal from studying the wild animal scat that the dogs search out. Food habits, parasite loads and home range size are just the beginning. By further studying the hormones and DNA of scat researchers can tell the sex of the animal, its reproductive status, population size, kinship and more.
Montana based WDC has taken on wildlife and plant study projects in many states across the nation as well as around the world. Their dogs have sniffed out the scat of the world’s most endangered ape the Cross River gorilla, in Cameroon Africa where there may be less than 300 individuals left. They have brought back scat for a study of grizzlies and black bears from an area 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle and have traveled to China to search for rare Asiatic Black bears. They have unearthed endangered lizards, tortoises, and various invasive plants among many other species while working for organizations such as BLM, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife, various state wildlife agencies, universities, US Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources.
Do visit the website and read about their projects. Be sure and click on the tab to meet the dogs. They are incredible.


One response to “Working Dogs for Conservation

  1. what would people do without dogs?? they are the spirits lifeline…great writing Gail!!! xo

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