Friday, October 28, 2011

Endangered Species Helped by Dogs

Dogs are using their powerful sense of smell to help in the fight to save endangered species.

Researchers at Auburn University in Alabama began using specially trained dogs a couple of years ago to sniff out scat (feces) left behind by black bears, weasels, skunks, and other wild creatures. Alabama is home to 117 endangered species.

Todd Steury, and assistant professor of wildlife ecology and founder of EcoDog, originally used the dogs to find out where certain carnivores were living in order to better protect those areas.

He believes that habitat loss is one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss today. He says that dogs are ideal for this type of work because more traditional tools that use bait might skew results by luring animals into an area they would not normally go.

Scat provides researchers with a wealth of information such as population size, fertility, diet, and stress levels.

Currently 11 Labrador Retrievers are part of the program and were all trained at the university's Canine Detection and Research Institute, one of the largest dog detection training programs outside of the federal government.

Training takes about eight weeks for the first scent,then about 10 minutes for additional odors.

The dogs can be "rented" for field studies in other states, and recently worked on finding invasive pythons deep in the Florida Everglades and right whale feces floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

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