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Nature conservation dogs helping to find endangered species

Labrador retriever.
Labrador retriever. Source: Angel Luciano / Unsplash

Dogs are used to find explosives and narcotic substances, while there is now also a trend for nature conservation dogs who have been taught to seek out different protected species based on their scent.

Estonian University of Life Sciences researcher and dog trainer Lea Tummeleht told Vikerraadio that in Estonia, nature conservation dogs could be used to locate flying squirrels or spruce bark beetles.

Tummeleht said that research on the use of dogs in nature conservation is coming mostly from North America and Europe. "The field is not widespread, while dogs have been used in various nature conservation projects since the middle of the previous century," she pointed out.

She admitted that the field is so little-known people might struggle to think about how dogs might be used in research. Tummeleht also said that breeds that can be trained to ignore other forest dwellers need to be picked for training. "We do not want conservation dogs to cause other species stress or go after hares or roe deer instead."

Tummeleht has a Labrador retriever called Kitty who has been trained to look for flying squirrel droppings for a joint Finnish-Estonian project. She said that the dogs are trained just like police dogs are taught to look for banned substances. "The principle is the same, while the goal is different in conservation," she remarked. Conservation dogs are usually tasked with finding the droppings or specimens of endangered species, for example, beetles or butterflies.

Dogs have an excellent sense of smell and can access environments man might struggle to reach, the researcher suggested.

Talking about flying squirrel droppings, Tummeleht said that a trained dog can find a half-decomposed flying squirrel turd, which is tiny and resembles mouse droppings – not something the human eye can usually pick up. While all rodent droppings might look the same to humans, dogs can be trained to find a particular species' feces.

Flying squirrel. Source: Rainar Kurbel

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Editor: Sandra Saar, Marcus Turovski

Source: "Ökoskoop"

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