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Dogs trained to track movements of threatened wildlife

May 16, 2008 |  4:47 pm


Researchers in Brazil have found a new way to put the nosiness of dogs to good use.  In a program headed by the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, four dogs have been trained to detect animal feces and track the movements of threatened wildlife, according to Conservation International:

Sniffing_dog In the Cerrado region of Brazil, four dogs trained to detect animal feces by scent are helping researchers monitor rare and threatened wildlife such as jaguar, tapir, giant anteater and maned wolf in and around Emas National Park, a protected area with the largest concentration of threatened species in Brazil.

The researchers analyze feces found by the dogs to learn about where and how the threatened mammals live. Data such as numbers, range, diet, hormonal stress, parasites and even genetic identity contribute to a study of how the mammals use environments inside and outside the park, especially on privately owned lands of the region.

The information helps develop conservation and development strategies that meet the needs of both the animals and local farmers. The dogs are rewarded for their good work with tennis balls to chase and chomp.

The dogs were trained much like their better-known drug-sniffing counterparts, according to Conservation International. When they find feces, researchers mark the location with a GPS device and later map it.

The study, nearing completion, is suggesting that threatened mammals, especially jaguars, don't particularly like venturing out of forested areas near the park, and thus don't leave as much "evidence" behind for the dogs to find.

--Tony Barboza

Photos by Carly Vynne/Courtesy of Conservation International

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