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WebClawer: Dog searches for tigers by following the scent of their droppings; giant rats hunt for landmines

February 13, 2009 | 12:48 pm

Maggie the tiger "hunter" jumps as she plays with an officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia From elusive Cambodian tigers and the dogs who aim to find them to giant (and heroic?) rats, the Web is chock full of animal news:

-- It sounds like a joke without the punch line: How do you tell if tigers still roam your nature reserve? Get a dog to hunt for their droppings. A German wirehaired pointer named Maggie will do just that at Cambodia's 1,158-square-mile Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area beginning next week. Maggie was trained in Russia, where the idea to use dogs to find elusive tigers was pioneered. Since then, dogs have been employed in South America (where they searched for jaguars) and Africa (leopards), but Maggie's project marks the first time the method has been tried in Asia. "We think this is the best method when we have a large area and not that many tigers," said Hannah O'Kelly of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Another Russian-trained dog is set to join Maggie later this year as part of the $10-million, 10-year "Tigers Forever" initiative that aims to increase the tiger population by 50% in countries including Cambodia, China, India and Thailand. (Associated Press)

-- In Mozambique and Tanzania, giant Gambian pouch rats (which can grow to be about the size of a raccoon) are being used to sniff out land mines. One advantage of using rats for this purpose, according to the group HeroRATS, is that -- unlike sniffer dogs -- they're too small to set off the mines. A team of two rats and their handlers can clear two 100-square-meter fields a day, and the rats are rewarded with bananas when they detect a mine. (Gizmodo)

-- An otter enclosure at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens held only one otter when keepers left for the night on Sunday. But first thing Monday morning, they found two otters (and no, one hadn't given birth). Turned out, a wild North American river otter had broken into the zoo and made itself at home. "We get birds or squirrels coming in, of course," said Craig Miller, the zoo's mammals curator. "And we may find possum remains in the lion yard. But never this." Since Florida regulations prohibit zoos from keeping wild animals (unless they're injured or considered a nuisance), the imposter was released in a nearby river Monday afternoon. (United Press International)

-- "Hero pilot" Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is not just a friend to airline passengers in need -- he's also deeply devoted to animals. Sullenberger and his wife, Lorrie, foster kittens and raise puppies for the group Guide Dogs for the Blind. "Sully and his wife just changed my life. Sully was my hero before he ever landed that plane," said neighbor Joe Green, who recounted that the Sullenbergers were instrumental in convincing him to try using a leader dog when he lost his sight. (PeoplePets)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Maggie the tiger "hunter" jumps as she plays with a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: Heng Sinith / Associated Press.

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