Dogs’ sense of smell is well documented and has been utilized by us in a myriad of different ways. Drug detection, gun and bomb detection, hunting, and so many other ways for dogs’ noses to help our lives.
Well, a more unconventional way is for dogs to be used by wildlife preservation programs to locate endangered animals. Such programs aim to locate, catch, breed, and release members of endangered species and thus – help the species continue.
Recently, a squad of sniffing dogs in Australia has been trained to do something new entirely – to search for the critically endangered Baw Baw frog. Sniffing for this rare species is hard because they live underground. Using dogs to sense underground species is almost unheard of until now, but it actually worked. Rubble and her brother Uda are border collies from Australia and they’ve been doing a spectacular job saving the endangered Baw Baw frogs.
Uda’s and Rubble’s owner and trainer Luke Edwards says the dogs are amazing.
“We know that border collies are really good at both searching and stamina,” he said.
“That’s what we’re after for working dogs — their stamina both mentally and physically. Border collies are well known for that.”
The whole initiative was organized by the Zoos Victoria to help the Baw Baw frog. This species of frog lives only on the Mount Baw Baw Plateau in eastern Victoria and are endangered thanks to the introduction of the deadly chytrid fungus. By rough estimates, there are less than 1,200 Baw Baw frogs left in the wild.
Amphibian specialist Deon Gilbert says that until now, these frogs have only been located by their mating sounds.
“This species is incredibly difficult to detect in the wild,” he said.
“They live predominantly underground … the males only call for about five or six weeks of the year, so that restricts our opportunities to actually locate the species.”
To use dogs to detect the very faint scent of these frogs is literally revolutionary.
“As soon as they find that smell and do that drop they look to us, so they’re not actually looking to the animal for the reward, they’re looking back to us for the reward.”
“The dogs were able to locate the exact site where the frogs were calling from much much quicker than we were able to do just by using ears,” Mr. Gilbert says.
Mr. Edwards says it was exciting for everyone involved.
“I think the biggest surprise, particularly with Rubble there was … as he stuck his nose into a crevice the frog actually called,” he says.
“And he’s [like] ooh here’s a frog there and that was one that no-one knew that was in that particular location so it was really cool.”
Zoos Victoria is now looking into other opportunities to use dogs to search for endangered species.
“The accuracy of a dog’s nose is really unsurpassed, so they basically have a sense of smell or can have a sense of smell that’s about 10,000 times stronger than humans so we really want to utilise that talent,” research assistant Chris Hartnett said.