Detection Dogs

Science for Wildlife is using new techniques to help find and save threatened species, by developing survey methods using wildlife detection dogs. After the devastating bushfires, sniffer dogs will be even more critical for helping us to find what is left of our koala populations.

Smudge is our current koala sniffer dog, and is doing a brilliant job of it! He was originally trained as a search and rescue dog for people, but has transitioned beautifully onto finding koala poop. Where there is poop, there are koalas so he’ll help us find koala habitats so we can focus our efforts there to conserve the koalas that survived the fires.

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. A dog can cover in 5 minutes the same area that 3 people would take an hour to search visually. 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.

Smudge has been trained by our director Dr Kellie Leigh and his handler/owner Kim Edwards. Smudge is following a legacy set by Badger (right), who was Australia’s first spotted-tailed quoll detection dog, trained to detect the poo or scats of this large marsupial carnivore. Badger and Kellie completed the first research to experimentally test how dogs perform in different habitats. 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. So, when trained and handled the right way, dogs are incredibly effective!

You can read the research we published from Badger’s work in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, you can see it here. Our results showing how good detection dogs are has encouraged more land managers to use wildlife detection dogs for surveys of elusive wildlife species.

Smudge koal dog
Smudge, koala scat sniffer. He and handler Kim are helping us to search for koalas after the bushfires

Badger was our first koala sniffer dog, originally trained on spotted-tailed quoll scats. He died of a rare cancer in 2017 and is still missed. Smudge is following in his footsteps, and our new border collie pup Groot will join the team soon!

You can help train more dogs like Smudge, to find and save our koala populations, by donating now to our Koala Project.