Conservation Is Going To The Dogs
The idea of dogs working as conservationists might seem more like the plot of a Disney movie than reality, but that doesn’t make the concept behind Working Dogs for Conservation any less credible. Under the watchful eye of scientists at this Midwestern research institution, Wicket, Pepin, and Orbee have become four-legged experts on the cutting edge of science.
Based out of Bozeman, Montana, Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) is a non-profit that uses dogs to detect invasive species in order to protect native wildlife across the world. Currently, WD4C supports five project categories: “Ecological Monitoring & Habitat Mapping”, “Poaching & Traffic Prevention”, “Aquatic Species Detection”, “Invasive Species Detection & Eradication”, and “Disease & Contaminant Detection”. Within each of these areas, the nonprofit operates several initiatives, including everything from tracking poaching in Zambia to tracing carnivores in America’s Centennial Mountains.
The dogs that WD4C trains are incredibly effective– more so than most other conservation methods currently available. Dogs can detect scents that humans cannot, with the added bonus of near-perfect accuracy and the ability to track multiple scents at once without sacrificing efficacy. WD4C’s pack provides data that would be otherwise impossible to collect using comparable technological means, with the canine advantage of unparalleled depth and speed.
In a pilot test of a program, WD4C’s four dogs found 100% of the target species and were significantly faster and more skillful than the human investigators, who found only 75% of the targets in the course of a longer period of time. In addition, where humans can often unknowingly suffer biases, dogs are completely neutral. After working with conservation dogs, researchers in the program realized that humans often focused on adult and territorial animals when collecting data, while dogs tracked scat from juveniles and subordinates, providing a more accurate portrait of populations within a given landscape.
With the data the conservation dogs have helped collect, thousands of acres of habitat have been protected from development, while reproduction of invasive species populations has been reduced (by as much as 99.8% in some places), and the local government has potentially saved billions of dollars.
The dogs themselves are considered “high-drive” animals. Many are rescues from shelters where they risked being euthanized because of their difficulty finding homes, while others have been adopted from owners who were unable to handle their high levels of energy.
As part of an effort to replicate their success elsewhere and to reduce euthanizations, WD4C– in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare– runs Rescues 2the Rescue, a program that identifies dogs with work potential and places them into detection programs, which provides dogs with a fulfilling life that also helps protect the environment.
Whether they’re canvassing the tundras of Alaska to protect the habitat of the arctic black bear or uncovering invasive snails in the humid tropics of Hawaii, the members of WD4C’s pack are excellent ambassadors for the work that they do: they’re friendly, outgoing, and eager to please. Regardless of the fact that the dogs been given a second chance, the species they are working to protect –and the environment at large– are better off because of them.