Families often misjudge how much exercise dogs need, which is how many pets end up at the animal shelter. Insatiable play drive is bad for the average home but great for working canines. The Center for Biology Conservation adopts many of these dogs and trains them to sniff out wildlife droppings. Yes you read that right!
Scientists can learn a lot from scat, including sex, species, and even stress level. They can put together a complete health profile without even ever meeting an animal in person.
The Center's current project is bringing two conservation canines to the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico to track salamanders found nowhere else in the world. These amphibians are threatened due to the changing climate. The information will be used to map salamanders and create a plan to help save the critters and conserve the forests they live in.
The two dogs scheduled for the job are a Labrador named Sampson and an Australian Cattle Dog named Alli. Both are rescue pups and have since gone through rigorous training (all through positive reinforcement!). Sampson and Alli are trained on a variety of animal droppings, including the Pacific Pocket Mouse whose scat is as small as a sesame seed! Other conservation canines can even sniff out killer whale waste.
The Center's Conservation Canines program launched in 1997 and now sends scat sniffing dogs all over the world. Their skills are unmatched as they can collect huge amounts of samples over a large area in a short period of time.
I knew that droppings can provide a wealth of information, but the work that can be done with that data is far bigger that I'd realized. In one notable project, the Center used data from African elephant scat to create a map that is being used to battle the illegal ivory trade. Now when ivory pieces are discovered, the laboratory can identify the exact area it came from, which increases the chances of finding the culprits.
All that thanks to the amazing canine nose!