“Sniffer Detector Dogs have been used in the past for the war on drugs, explosives, termites and to find invasive wildlife species like foxes and rabbits. Now they are being used to find and conserve threatened wildlife species.
Martin Dominick from The K9 Centre and Dr Kellie Leigh from Science for Wildlife Inc, trained a dog to track a declining native species the Tiger Quoll ( Dasyurus masclatus) the largest carnivorous marsupial on the Australian Mainland. Tiger Quoll numbers have dropped so low that traditional survey methods like camera-traps are no longer producing results in many areas. Kellie and Martin trained Badger, an Australian Shepherd, and not only can Badger track down scats from quolls he has also taken part in some important scientific research.
Wildlife detection dogs have been used overseas, particularly in the USA, for many years but are relatively new to Australia. The Australian Academy of Science funded a study to evaluate how detection dogs perform in Australian conditions and habitats, so that we can make sure detection dog wildlife surveys are effective here. The study yielded some very interesting results and will soon be published and available here. Overall our research showed that there are very few limitations on detection dog performance in Australian habitats, but there are a few tricks in training and handling that can be used to improve the likelihood of finding threatened species.”
Badger the dog save’s endangered Quolls
COLAC district conservationists hope a dog could be the key to saving Australia’s tiger quoll population.
Employees of the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation Ecology have been busy training two-year-old Badger, the tiger quoll detection dog, to locate scats from the endangered tiger quoll population.
Program leader Kellie Leigh is training Badger, an Australian shepherd, with the aid of three tiger quolls kept on site in a custom-built sanctuary named the “Qualloseum”.
Staff feed the quolls a varied diet and the quolls, each of which is about 12 months old, provide fresh scats for Badger’s training program.
“Three down the back are providing poo to train badger with,” Ms Leigh said.
“We’re training him to track down scats, so if he can find like a latrine site then we can sample it, take DNA from all the poo and figure out how many quolls are using that latrine site, what sex they are,” she said.
“If we do find poo we obviously know they’re around, then we can trap them and collar them and find out what habitats they’re using, what they’re feeding off and what the threats are and the causes of decline.”
Ms Leigh said tiger quoll numbers in the Otways were so low that environmental authorities, who use remote cameras to survey the animals, had not detected the marsupial predator for “about seven years”.
“It means the population has declined dramatically and those sorts of survey techniques are less reliable,” Ms Leigh said.
But she said a recent “fairly reliable sighting” on private land at Johanna had reaffirmed the need to assess the remaining population.
The centre also uses remote cameras, triggered by motion and heat, to look for tiger quolls
Who are we?
Science for Wildlife is led by Dr Kellie Leigh, featured in the video above, who has a wealth of experience in native wildlife conservation and with canines. Before starting research on koalas she spent a decade living in a tent in Africa studying endangered African wild dogs, and all that behaviour research has also helped her develop some dog training skills. After tracking an animal that has a home range of eight hundred square kilometres, tracking koalas that might move once or twice a day to the next tree is a challenge she is looking forward to! Kellie is an Honourary Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, where she also teaches for a Masters degree in wildlife population management. She is part outdoorsy bush-woman and part science-geek.
Martin Dominick from The K9 Centre Australia has over 30 years experience training detection dogs, for everything from explosives and narcotics through to dogs trained to detect disease-infected bee hives. Martin was a partner in the research that evaluated detection dog performance in Australian conditions. He has a passion for K9’s and is our “dog whisperer”.
Jennifer Tobey from San Diego Zoo Global has decades of experience in koala research, including behavioural studies on scent communication in koalas. With so much hands on experience studying koalas up close, Jen is our “koala whisperer”. Once we have found the koala populations in the Blue Mountains, San Diego Zoo are giving their support to more detailed ecological studies of koalas.
Badger the Australian shepherd recently completed his research project on the performance of detection dogs in Australian habitats. He is looking forward to getting back into the field again, and adding “eau de koala” to his scent repertoire.