It is well-known that dogs have been good friends with humans since prehistoric times. Today, they routinely help us in the detection of drugs and explosives, in rescues, and other duties. But over the last few years, these magnificent assistants are taking on a new mission: detecting fauna for scientific and conservationist purposes.
Dogs are ideal for finding animals in the field because of their extraordinary sense of smell—up to 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human, according to some estimates. This technique is minimally invasive for searching for fauna and, of course, the dogs do not harm the animals they find. Also, many types of dogs can search rough terrain and enter crevices that would be very difficult for humans.
But the contribution of these animals to conservation efforts is not limited merely to the detection of species that are threatened or of special concern—dogs are also used to detect diseases such as brucellosis (an infectious disease caused by bacteria), to combat poaching, and to detect invasive species.
Regarding amphibians, sometimes dogs are the only way to find the most difficult to detect species. In addition, in studies of habitat use and behavior, the use of dogs provides great advantages over other techniques such as tracking with radio telemetry, which not only can be damaging to an amphibian that carries the transmitter, but also it can suffer from technical complications, can be very costly, and it cannot be used to study large populations of animals nor certain development stages.
In the USA and the UK, dogs are being used more frequently in conservation, and the popularity of this method has grown spectacularly in recent years. Other countries are also beginning to use this technique, and some organizations in Spain already offer this service.
In Australia, dogs are being used to detect the cane toad plague of Central America, which is very damaging to the local fauna. In New Mexico, dogs help find the tiny native amphibian, the Jemez Mountains salamander.
In the UK, the organization “Conservation Dogs” is training dogs to detect the crested newt (Triturus cristatus), an amphibian widely distributed across Europe and protected in the UK, for the first time. This project, which will begin in March and last until the end of the year, will allow researchers to evaluate the species’ distribution and choose the areas that need to be reinforced.
Though we aren’t aware of any cases of dogs being used to detect amphibians in Spain, they are already using this technique for other species such as the Mediterranean tortoise.
We are sure that this technique will become more popular among researchers and that dogs will become the perfect assistants to biologists. Here at SOS Amphibians, we would love to have a canine helper!