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A Nose for Conservation

Emma and her dog Mojo. While Mojo is not looking for threatened species herself, she will be mother to a new generation of conservation dogs with some of her puppies expected to work in Melbourne Zoo’s threatened species program. Credit: Leah Denadic

Emma and her dog Mojo. While Mojo is not looking for threatened species herself, she will be mother to a new generation of conservation dogs with some of her puppies expected to work in Melbourne Zoo’s threatened species program. Credit: Leah Denadic

By Emma Bennett

Conservationists are recruiting dogs (and their owners) to detect rare species like tiger quolls as well as invasive pests and weeds, but how reliable are they?

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Dogs have been helping the police, the army and Customs officers find things that are hard to find for many years. However, it has only been in the past 15 or so years that environmental scientists have really begun to take advantage of dogs and their superior noses. Across the world dogs are now being used to help conservation efforts in a number of ways. From tracking gorillas in the jungle, whales in the ocean and ants under rocks, dogs are proving useful for rare species surveys particularly where home ranges are large or where other techniques are inadequate.

New Zealand has been leading the world in the use of conservation detection dogs. Detection dogs are an essential component of kiwi and kakapo recovery programs as well as finding that last rodent or invasive ant as part of eradication programs on offshore islands. Australia has dogs trained to detect threatened species including marsupials, frogs, bats, lizards and birds. In addition to native species, dogs have been trained to find invasive animals such cane toads, fire ants, feral cats, foxes, rodents, rabbits, and even invasive plants like hawkweed.

I began working with dogs in 2005 to help find bats with my German short-haired pointer Elmo as a part-time job while I studied for my ecology degree at the University of Melbourne. Following Elmo’s retirement in 2012, I began working with other...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.