Dogs have been our companions for hundreds of thousands of years, carrying out countless jobs with and for us. They have helped us hunt and farm, they are our protectors and assistants – and some are even helping us protect wildlife.
One such dog is Springer spaniel Henry, who uses his keen nose to find and rescue a beloved but vulnerable wild animal in the UK: the hedgehog. As hedgehogs are nocturnal and quite shy, finding them to keep track of their dwindling numbers and work on ways to protect them poses a challenge.
Trained to detect hedgehog nests, Henry is able to alert his handlers of their location, allowing them to better protect the UK hedgehog population. Henry is one of a group of conservation detective dogs from Conservation K9 Consultancy.
“He and his fellow dog colleagues sniff out all manner of things, from bat carcasses and pine martens in the UK, to ivory, leopard skin, shark fin, and pangolin scales in Africa,” a statement from People’s Trust for Endangered Species reads.
The devastating fires that set Australia ablaze in early 2020 are still fresh in everyone’s memory; looking back, they seemed a sign that the year ahead was not to be a good one. Wildlife across Australia was terribly affected by the fires, and the koala population suffered huge losses.
In order to find and save as much wildlife as possible, search dogs were deployed. Taylor, a four-year-old English Springer Spaniel, was one of these amazing dogs: she is trained to find koalas, quolls, foxes, rabbits and rats. Trained by TATE Animal Training Enterprises, she worked to rescue koalas with owner Ryan Tate as the fires still raged.
“She is trained to prioritise the scent of the live animal and sit as close to it as she can (she smells the odour dropping down from the tree),” a TATE statement reads. “If she is unable to locate the live animal she will lie down with her nose in front of their scat. In optimum conditions, we have seen her recognise and hone in on a koala from 125 metres away.”
Another dog working to locate and save koalas is Bear, a detection dog who even caught the eye of Tom Hanks, who called for a movie to be made about him.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said, “Bear, IFAW’s koala detection dog, is an integral part of search and rescue efforts to locate koalas suffering from the bushfires. Trained by the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dogs for Conservation team, Bear is one of the few detection dogs able to locate live koalas through the scent of their fur.”
Much bigger mammals figure among wildlife saved daily thanks to the effort of conservation dogs. Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) train dogs to detect “ammunition, guns, poisons, snares, ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin scales” – all vital work to fight against wildlife trafficking.
Bears are also among the wildlife dogs work to protect along with conservationists. Carrie Hunt, founder of Wind River Bear Institute, also founded the practice of ‘bear shepherding’ – which involves using Karelian Bear Dogs to help teach bears that it would be wise to stay away from human beings and their communities. You can read more about their work here.
Hedgehogs, koalas, African wildlife, bears – these are but a few of the wild animals man’s best friend is helping us protect. Is there any job they cannot do?
(No need to answer. We already know there is not!)