Man’s best friend isn’t just cute and cuddly; dogs can also be powerful tracking tools.
Image Credit: Couleur/Pixabay
The secret behind a dog’s tracking skills resides within the creature’s robust nose. With it, they can discern even the most diluted scents and follow them for long distances.
Law enforcement agencies often utilize specially-trained canines to locate and detain potentially-dangerous suspects, but scientists now wonder if these tracking skills might translate well to the tune of animal conservation.
Because elusive animals aren't easy to find in the wilderness, experts often struggle to collect accurate data regarding their movement patterns and population numbers. Having an expert tracker by their side, on the other hand, could change that.
While law enforcement agencies might use clothing to help dogs key in on a specific scent relating to a suspect, researchers partaking in animal conservation would instead go after the one thing an endangered animal leaves behind time and time again: its fecal matter.
To discern whether dogs would make useful tracking tools for animal conservation efforts, Monash University's Emma Bennet conducted a study with several volunteers and nine dogs.
Together, they placed a host of different scat samples within a 25-meter plot of land at Great Otway National Park in Victoria, Australia. They then sent the dogs out in teams to distinguish the Quoll scats from those of other animals, and their findings have high hopes for the novel idea of using dogs for animal conservation.
"Dogs have been trained to find evidence of the elusive and endangered Tiger Quoll by finding where they go to the toilet," Bennet explained. "The trained dogs can provide a non-invasive alternative to trapping for some animals, which reduces stress and the risk for injuries."
Bennet’s study underscored that the dogs could accurately discern the Quoll scats from others. On their own, each dog exhibited anywhere from 50% to 70% accuracy in finding the Quoll scats, but four out of the six dog teams displayed 100% accuracy overall.
It would seem from the numbers that dogs could be viable candidates for tracking the Tiger Quoll in the wilderness, and perhaps even other kinds of elusive animals without harming them by way of traps.
"What I'm really excited about with this program is to demonstrate that volunteers who are passionate about the environment can actually train their dogs on a particular scent, and go out as a group of citizens in science and collect additional data for scientists that would be hard to come by otherwise," Bennet continued.
"The results of this study will be essential in forming guidelines for volunteer dog handling programs. While the study is focused on dogs detecting the Tiger Quoll, it can certainly be expanded to other threatened species."
While the initial findings look good for the idea, there's undoubtedly much more testing to conduct before anyone can definitively say that dogs make ideal endangered animal trackers.
Follow-up studies in the future could answer any remaining uncertainties and perhaps push humankind in a better direction for tracking animals threatened with extinction.