/ 6 December 2017

Australian dogs trained to sniff out endangered species

The tiger quoll
The tiger quoll

Australian dogs are being trained to sniff out the droppings of endangered animals in a scheme that offers greater understanding of threatened species through the less-intrusive method of canine tracking.

Emma Bennett, a PhD candidate at Monash University in Melbourne, is working with environmentally-conscious dog owners who have volunteered their pets in a rain-forest region of Victoria state to track the scats, or droppings, of the endangered tiger quoll, a small marsupial.

“Scats contain DNA, so you can identify the individual animal,” Bennett told AFP on Wednesday.

“They also contain information about diet distribution.”

The dogs — of varying breeds, including border collies and german shepherds — have been found to have “very high” early detection rates of 50-70 percent accuracy in discovering the samples.

“They are working just as efficiently as you would expect a full time working dog to do,” Bennett said.

Using canines to obtain the faeces sample is a “non-invasive” alternative to traps, reducing the risk of injury or stress, the researcher added.

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“When you collect scats you’re not impacting the threatened species at all, but you’re still able to collect its DNA and a whole range of other information about it, so you don’t have to trap the animal” she said.

The tiger quoll, a spotted carnivorous cat-like marsupial, is threatened in the southeastern Otway rain-forest region by land clearing, as well as foxes and cats.

Bennett said the animal was thought to have died out in the area until a rediscovery in 2012.

She expects her study will be expanded to track other threatened species, with the use of volunteer dogs opening up the research techniques to smaller community groups as a cheaper way alternative to other methods.

“There is potential for finding someone in the community who is really passionate and into dog training to step up and go: ‘I can help find that rare orchid or that burrowing frog’,” Bennett said.

© Agence France-Presse