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  • Writer's pictureJessica Gatzow

Conservation Dogs Across the Globe

As colder Autumn weather settles in, the Finder-Keeper teams at CDCI are ready for some well-deserved relaxation during the off season. We think the end of a fieldwork season is a great time to reflect not only on our own work, but some of the amazing projects that other organizations with conservation dogs have dug their noses into in 2022. Our four-legged friends have made incredible discoveries and served as stewards of the land in various ecosystems across the U.S. and the world!

Conservation dogs are helping ecologists survey for the endangered small whorled pogonia in New Jersey. Photo: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

A Rare Flora Discovery

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) Conservation Dogs has been helping botanists survey for a rare orchid species listed as federally endangered. Since starting the special project in May, their dogs—Dia, Fagen, and Peat—have successfully spotted the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides). Because this species is quite small and subtle even when in flower, detection support from dogs is incredibly helpful for studying the orchid’s biology and habitat. The NYNJTC Conservation Dogs program was glad to have a chance to highlight how endangered species status matters just as much in the plant kingdom as it does for animals.

Winged Creatures in Distress? Conservation Dogs to the Rescue!

Besides flight capability, bats and seabirds don’t tend to have much in common—they belong to different classes of animals and dwell in very different habitats. But for a few individuals in distress, both species have been aided by detection dogs this year.

Energy turbines on wind farms can interfere with things like seasonal migration for some species of bats, unfortunately leading to increased bat mortality. To assist with surveys for this issue, English Springer Spaniel Harley from Paws For Conservation is trained to locate bat carcasses on wind farms in the U.K. But on a recent search, Harley spotted a living individual from the noctule genus, just in time to save the bat's life! The noctule could then be transported to a specialist wildlife center for recovery and rehabilitation.

On the other side of the globe, Conservation Dogs of Hawaii has begun a project to aid endangered species of petrel and shearwater seabirds—they’re currently in the trial stage of running detection searches. The need for detection assistance from dog experts in this project is twofold: For one, the seabirds only return to the islands’ shores to breed, and some burrow nocturnally. Locating elusive nests more efficiently would help conservation efforts to protect the endangered species from predators. Additionally, conservation dogs may aid in finding fallen fledglings. A phenomenon known as “fallout” occurs when fledglings confuse artificial light sources for the moon. If fledglings follow the former instead of the latter when they take their first flight out to sea, they can fall to the ground due to injury from colliding with urban structures, exhaustion from circling the artificial light source or confusion. Prompt rescue is essential to giving these birds the greatest chance of survival.

Dog handler Kyoko Johnson and K9 Solo survey an area on Mauna Kea (Big Island of Hawaii) for Hawaiian petrel burrows. The Hawaiian petrel is endemic to Hawaii and endangered. Photo: Conservation Dogs of Hawai'i

Working With Water

Raasay uses her detection skills from a kayak to locate aquatic invasives. Photo: Skylos Ecology

The Finder-Keeper teams at CDCI know just how valuable scent-detection can be for locating invasive water-dwelling organisms like the New Zealand mudsnail in the U.S. Detection dogs can be excellent assets to conservation efforts concerned with biosecurity in and near water. For border collie Raasay on the conservation dogs teams at Skylos Ecology, that means sniffing coastal water from a kayak gliding down an estuary in Australia. She detects the invasive Spartina anglica (common cordgrass) so that conservationists can remove the grass before it outcompetes native plants of wetlands.

Hettie and handler Louise Wilson use a kayak to cover areas that are otherwise difficult to access. Photo: Conservation K9 Consultancy

UK-based organization Conservation K9 Consultancy has also been working via kayak: their detection teams are in high demand for water vole monitoring, and their upcoming survey season is already filling up. When conservation dog Hettie isn’t searching for the fuzzy brown rodent through the densely covered ditches of Yorkshire, she’s expertly balanced on a kayak with her handler. Water voles are the fastest declining mammal in Britain, but one of the greatest contributors to biodiversity. Since the species is semi-aquatic, dog scent-detection has become a popular aid for survey efforts in the water.

Back in the U.S., Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) has started on a project investigating water contamination in western Montana. They’ve partnered with the Applied Sciences program at NASA’s Earth Science Division to look for signs of contamination in the food web of mustelids—carnivorous mammals including the American mink and river otter. WD4C’s dogs search for fecal matter of mustelids so that scientists can test samples for contaminant residues. This project highlights how conservation dogs help not only with the efficiency of locating biological materials, but also provide a noninvasive monitoring technique.

Frost helps scientists study water contamination at the Blackfoot Reservation in western Montana. Photo: Working Dogs for Conservation

Photo: Paul Bunker

Training With Iguanas

Not every scent sample can fit nicely in a mason jar or tube, especially if that scent sample is a live iguana! Paul Bunker at Chiron K9 is testing his new scent detection training device to ensure safety of the iguanas while giving detection dogs an optimal concentration of odor. The new device has an opening at the bottom for dogs to sniff into and then curves upward into a long pipe that can contain iguana hatchlings at a safe distance from the dog. Learning the scent of iguana hatchlings will allow conservation dogs to assist nest surveying.

All of this conservation work wouldn’t be PAWSable without the help of amazing people who love dogs & conservation.

Lend a paw by donating to CDCI today!

Stay tuned for our 2022 annual recap, and while you're waiting, watch and listen to details from two of our recent projects:


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