While many conservation dog organizations are an unaffiliated organization, there are a number which are connected to higher education, which enables conservation dogs to be utilized heavily in academic research and conservation efforts. Our next interview is with Detection Dogs for Conservation with the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. If you’ve heard about the wonderful Koala Dogs in Australia, this is the team!
Their work was critical in locating wildlife affected by the country’s 2019/2020 bushfires. Their team of ten (depending on how many students are in the program or have graduated) worked tirelessly during the crisis (and still does!) to locate and assist with koala conservation and research. Typically their team studies population statistics and genetics, as well as monitoring populations for health and safety, but they also envision training and deploying teams throughout Australia, which would be an incredible asset to the conservation world as there are a vast number of endemic species throughout the country.
Program Co-founder and Co-director, Dr. Romane Cristeau, shared a bit more information with us about her experiences with the program, which began in 2015. Together with Dr. Celine Frere, they were instrumental in establishing the Australasian Conservation Dog Network, which is a collective of industry professionals in Australia, and pioneered the use of conservation dogs in Australia.
Tell us a bit about the working dogs you work with. There are 5 dogs in our team. We rescue all our dogs for their personality, not breed, but interestingly all the ones we are working with are border collie and Australian koolie. We work in koala research and conservation primarily, so that’s our dogs main specialty. We have dogs that help us map koala habitat, collect koala genetics and find koala themselves - we have been very busy lately finding and rescuing koalas post fires.
What is your professional background and how did you get into working with dogs? I am a trained veterinarian and I have a Master in genetics and a PhD in ecology. When I was doing my PhD, I spent a lot of my time (months) doing very painful scat (poo) surveys. That’s when I got the idea of training a koala poo dog. Then it snowballed into a larger team with students and varied projects.
What is one wow-factor thing you like to share with people about your organization? I like that our organisation is run as a not-for profit: all the money we bring goes to koala research and conservation. That was always very important to me, as I am very passionate about protecting the environment.
A second very important thing is that we rescue our dogs— it means sometimes they come with a whole suit of painful baggage from their not always happy past. But I care deeply about adopting - I have been volunteering for animal shelters from my teenagehood, and so I hope we will always be able to give our dogs the time they need for their rehabilitation, and therefore a second chance at living a happy life.
How often are you in the field? Not often enough! Sadly between applying for grants, analysing data, writing papers and supervising students on different projects, I have less time than I would like in the field. Luckily our dogs get much more time in the field as they work with our students.
What does your typical work day look like when at ‘home’? Paperwork - this is the new life in academia... Learn more about the Detection Dogs for Conservation at University of the Sunshine Coast and follow them along on their sniffing adventures: