Terrestrial Ecosystems gets a wildlife conservation detection dog


Wildlife or conservation detection dogs are now widely used in Australia and overseas to locate native and feral animals, their scats and retreats. They are also used to find particular plants and for locating drugs and explosives (Wasser et al. 2004, Smith et al. 2005, Arnett 2006, Long et al. 2007, Cablk et al. 2008, Dematteo et al. 2009, Duggan et al. 2011, Reed et al. 2011, Vynne et al. 2011, Cristescu et al. 2015). Their capacity to find objects using a very well developed sense of smell has also enabled them to assist with finding missing people, and police and other law enforcement agencies use them to locate suspects.

Dogs are very well adapted to locating objects based on their scent as approximately one eighth of their brain and over 50% of the internal nose is committed to olfaction (Syrotuck 2000). We are aware that the Department of Parks and Wildlife has used detection dogs to locate Cane Toads in the Kimberley and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has some specially trained wildlife detection dogs working at its Mornington-Marion Downs property in the Kimberley to locate feral cats.

But how useful are wildlife conservation detection dogs?

Well here is an example. Macquarie Island (12,780 ha) is a World Heritage site administered as part of the Australian state of Tasmania. Rabbits were introduced to the island for food in about 1879. By the 1960s there was increasing concern about damage to vegetation so a rabbit control program commenced in 1978 when the rabbit population had reached ~150,000 with the release of the myxoma virus and this program continued until 2006. The rabbit numbers were estimated at 124,000 in 2006, so there had been some control but the problem remained. All cats on the island had been eliminated in 2000 and in 2011 an aerial baiting program was implemented to kill rabbits and rodents. This was a very successful program, but a small number of rabbits still remained. In July 2011, wildlife detection dogs were used to search the entire island and the remaining 13 rabbits on the island were found and destroyed. Had the last remaining 13 rabbits not been found, then the $25m control and management program would not have been successful, as this small number was sufficient for rabbit numbers to once again increase.

Terrestrial Ecosystems will be the first environmental consultancy in Western Australia with a nationally certified and professionally trained wildlife conservation detection dog. Dazzy, a female springer spaniel, is currently being trained by Steve Austin to locate four target species: feral cat, fox, Northern Quoll and Bilby. When fully trained she will search for, and find, individual animals or their respective scats and dens. Dazzy’s training started in early 2016 and when she arrives in WA in February 2017 she will be fully trained. We have already got contracts for her to find cats, foxes and fox dens in urban remnant bushland areas so they can be destroyed along with their occupants, and to determine areas where foxes and feral cats are located in urban remnant bushland areas so they can be trapped.

Dazzy will be available for Northern Quoll and Bilby detection work in 2017, and it is envisaged that she might initially be involved in projects in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, where there are multiple on-going conservation programs for these two threatened species. Knowing that Northern Quolls and Bilbies are in a project area is an important consideration in assessing environmental impacts, and knowing their specific retreat sites and which burrows are active will enable proponents to either plan around these areas and minimise potential impacts, or to trap and relocate individuals out of harms way. Monitoring of Northern Quoll and Bilby populations is also an important aspect of the management of these two threatened species, and being able to locate and census populations using wildlife conservation detection dogs is seen as a very cost-effective alternative to the current live trapping and camera trapping programs.

We’ll keep you informed of Dazzy’s progress in the training and when she arrives.



Images – top: Dazzy on day 1 with the trainers; bottom: Northern Quoll. Credit – Edward Swinhoe


Arnett, E. B. 2006. A preliminary evaluation on the use of dogs to recover bat fatalities at wind energy facilities. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34:1440-1445.

Cablk, M. E., J. C. Sagebiel, J. S. Heaton, and C. Valentin. 2008. Olfaction-based detection distance: A quantitative analysis of how far away dogs recognize tortoise odor and follow it to source. Sensors 8:2208-2222.

Cristescu, R. H., E. Foley, A. Markula, G. Jackson, D. Jones, and C. Frere. 2015. Accuracy and efficiency of detection dogs: a powerful new tool for koala conservation and management. Sci Rep 5:8349.

Dematteo, K. E., M. A. Rinas, M. M. Sede, B. Davenport, C. F. Argüelles, K. Lovett, and P. G. Parker. 2009. Detection dogs: An effective technique for bush dog surveys. Journal of Wildlife Management 73:1436-1440.

Duggan, J. M., E. J. Heske, R. L. Schooley, A. Hurt, and A. Whitelaw. 2011. Comparing detection dog and livetrapping surveys for a cryptic rodent. Journal of Wildlife Management 75:1209-1217.

Long, R. A., T. M. Donovan, P. Mackay, W. J. Zielinski, and J. S. Buzas. 2007. Comparing scat detection dogs, cameras, and hair snares for surveying carnivores. Journal of Wildlife Management 71:2018-2015.

Reed, S. E., A. L. Bidlack, A. Hurt, and W. M. Getz. 2011. Detection distance and environmental factors in conservation detection dog surveys. The Journal of Wildlife Management 75:243-251.

Smith, D. A., K. Ralls, B. L. Cypher, and J. E. Maldonado. 2005. Assessment of scat-detection dog surveys to determine kit fox distribution. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33:897-904.

Syrotuck, W. G. 2000. Scent and Scenting Dog. Barkeleight Productions, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.Vynne, C., J. R. Skalski, R. B. Machado, M. J. Groom, A. T. Jacomo, J. Marinho-Filho, M. B. Ramos Neto, C. Pomilla, L. Silveira, H. Smith, and S. K. Wasser. 2011. Effectiveness of scat-detection dogs in determining species presence in a tropical savanna landscape. Conservation Biology 25:154-162.

Wasser, S. K., B. Davenport, E. R. Ramage, K. E. Hunt, M. Parker, C. Clarke, and G. Stenhouse. 2004. Scat detection dogs in wildlife research and management: application to grizzly and black bears in the Yellowhead Ecosystem, Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology 82:475-492.

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