Wildlife detection dogs are trained to detect the scent of a particular animal in order to locate it. They navigate terrain and conditions where people often find it difficult or impossible to survey wildlife. The use of conservation dogs to find threatened wildlife is relatively new to Australia, despite being popular overseas for some time, and it costs upwards of $15,000-$30,000 to train one dog.
Badger (right) was Australia’s first spotted-tailed quoll detection dog, trained to detect the poo or scats of this large marsupial carnivore. Together with S4W researcher Dr Kellie Leigh, Badger completed the first research to experimentally test how dogs perform in different habitats. Theory holds that scent does not disperse well in thicker habitats – scent is heavier than air and gets caught up and pools in thick vegetation, and in depressions. This means that dogs may find it much more difficult to find the scent they are after.
The results of our research were surprising. Badger was able to detect quoll scats from the same distance in all habitats, up to 40 meters away in thick bushland. Humans would have no chance of finding a scat from that distance, in fact they might not even see it if they were right on top of it. A key to Badger’s success is likely to be the wide range of scats he was trained on. So, when trained and handled the right way, dogs are incredibly effective!
This was also the first research to test how wildlife detection dogs perform under Australian weather conditions, other evaluations have all been done overseas. Badger performed equally well in winter and summer conditions.
The research has just been published in the international scientific journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, you can see it here. We hope that our results will encourage more land managers to use wildlife detection dogs for surveys of elusive wildlife species.
Badger has recently been retired due to illness, and we are now raising funds to train more detection dogs to find koalas in the massive Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
Badger was trained according to expert advice from Project Partner K9-Centre Australia who is continuing to work with Science for Wildlife. The research was sponsored by an Australian Academy of Science Margaret Middleton Fund award to Dr Kellie Leigh, and fieldwork was supported by the Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc.
You can help train more dogs like Badger, to find and save our koala populations, by donating now.