Awesome article over at SciAm about the use of dogs in order to track rare animals in the wild for research purposes. As someone who works with animals in the lab, nice to see animals being used to help scientists where they aren't the test subjects.
Even better, the researchers go to shelters to find the dogs, helping to get "un-adoptable" dogs out of there, and putting their skills to good use. From the article:
And where do you find the right dogs for the job? Shelters, because these researchers are on the hunt for a very particular set of skills. "We select high-drive dogs, meaning they are high energy, most people would say is excessively, object obsessed," one of the team, Megan Parker from Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana, says. "This allows us to train them as detection dogs, and since these traits in a dog tend to make them poor pets, we select dogs from shelters, specifically for these characteristics. These dogs also have to have high focus and a desire to work with a handler, as well as being able to focus while working, ignoring all the distractions that would normally tempt a dog to explore."
For this particular research group, scientists trained the dogs to track down the world's rarest gorilla , the Cross River gorilla. They then took the dogs out to Cameroon, and performed a simulation of gorilla feces hunting (fun!). Probably not surprisingly, the dogs kicked ass at this task. Hopefully this will encourage more widespread use of shelter dogs helping scientists in the field:
While three dogs is all the team could afford to get to Cameroon from the US, the study was a proof of concept that this kind of technique could work better than what's currently being deployed in the area to track Cross River gorillas. Not only could they work with researchers interested in gorillas, says Parker from Working Dogs for Conservation, but they could be taught to sniff out a range of endangered species all at once, making them even more cost effective. And thanks to the strength of the conservation efforts being undertaken in both Cameroon and Nigeria, there's a good chance something like this will be adopted in the region.