Meet the dogs saving endangered species
It might surprise you to learn that there are conservationists on four legs as well as two.
The practice is actually nothing new, particularly in New Zealand where early conservationist Richard Henry trained his pet dog to sniff out rare local birds for protection in the 1890s. Realising that imported stoats were having a devastating impact on species such as kiwi and kakapo, Henry relied upon his pooch to help translocate birds to a reserve on Resolution Island. While this early effort was thwarted by swimming stoats, it paved the way for the world’s first government-backed conservation dogs programme, established in 1998. The rest of the world have steadily been catching on to the benefits since.
这种做法其实并不新鲜，尤其是在新西兰，19世纪90年代，早期的生态环境保护者理查‧亨利(Richard Henry)训练他的宠物犬嗅出当地稀有鸟类的踪迹，以保护这些鸟类。亨利意识到，外来的白鼬（stoat）对奇威鸟（kiwi）和鸮鹦鹉（kakapo）等物种产生了毁灭性的影响，于是他靠自己的狗帮助把鸟类转移到雷索卢申岛（Resolution Island）的一个保护区。尽管早期的努力因为白鼬会游泳而失败，但他的行动为成立于1998年的世界首个政府支持的环保犬计划铺平了道路。从那以后，世界其他地区一直在稳步地从中受益。
Agile and loyal, dogs have many qualities that recommend them for field work, but it’s their nose that puts them ahead of many of their human counterparts. It’s not that humans have a bad sense of smell, scientists have found we can detect up to a trillion different scents, but dogs come equipped with a super-powered nose as standard. Moist surfaces trap odour molecules, but dog noses are also remarkably sensitive – they have around 220 million olfactory receptors compared to 5 million in the human nose. These receptors detect smells and send signals to the brain, and dogs dedicate proportionately 40 times more of their brain to scent analysis than we do.
Add in a suite of other adaptations that allow dogs to filter the air they breathe in to a dedicated smelling area at the back of the nose, retain a scent after they’ve exhaled and determine which nostril detected a certain aroma, and you’ve got an extremely sophisticated smelling machine.
Nevertheless, if you’re a dog owner, you might be most familiar with your pet using their sense of smell for apparent evil – seeking out poop. Next time your pooch gleefully rolls in a pile of something stinky, you can think of the dogs that are being purposefully trained to save endangered animals by sniffing out scat. According to a review of scientific studies featuring conservation dogs, around half of them focus on patrolling for poo. Worldwide, dogs have helped scientists to track snow leopards, koalas, gorillas and even killer whales by following their nose to the muck.
Jennifer Hartman is a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines (CK9) facility which is home to 20 specially trained sniffer dogs. The CK9 team took on the tricky task of tracking orca poo, which only floats on the ocean’s surface for a limited time.
哈特曼(Jennifer Hartman)是华盛顿大学（University of Washington）环保犬科动物研究所(CK9，Conservation Canines)的一名研究科学家。该研究所养了20只经过专门训练的嗅探犬。CK9团队承担了追踪虎鲸粪便的棘手任务，虎鲸粪便只在有限的时间内漂浮在海洋表面。
“The whale team utilizes the wind and tide table to understand how the water is moving and the captain of the boat drives in transects perpendicular to the wind. Meanwhile the handler and dog are on the bow and the handler directs the captain with minute adjustments to the transect based on the dog's behaviour,” explains Hartman.
By successfully tracking and sampling the excrement, scientists can check on the health of the Southern resident orca population, which faces profound environmental stress from disrupted food supplies, pollution and boat traffic.
For their co-operation, the dogs receive their favourite treat. “We reward our dogs for locating target odours by playing ball,” says Hartman. “They can be any breed, most any size, but they all have to have one thing in common: an extreme obsession to play ball.” says Hartman. She explains that around 98% of the dogs are from rescue shelters, given up by owners who could not match their energy levels. Enthusiastic pups are a must for the programme, but handlers need to match this with patience, curiosity and hard work. “Pairing a conservation dog with their handler is critical to the success of the work,” says Hartman.
These dogs certainly have their work cut out for them but have so far risen to the challenges of finding not only sporadic orca poop, but the buried scats of Chinese pangolins, tiny Pacific pocket mouse droppings and even the minute frass of silverspot butterfly caterpillars, which Hartman compares to “pepper flakes”.
寻找虎鲸对环保犬其实是很困难的工作，但其工作挑战难度还在上升，这些狗只不仅要搜寻零星的虎鲸粪便，还要搜寻中国穿山甲（Chinese pangolin）掩埋的排泄物，小太平囊鼠（pocket mouse）的粪便甚至是银斑蝶（silverspot butterfly）幼虫的粪便。哈特曼说这种蝴蝶粪便像胡椒粉一样细少。
After the scat sniffers, the next most common task for conservation dogs is live animal detection. With their years of experience, New Zealand is considered global leaders in the use of conservation dogs for seeking out hard to find species. But they’re also putting paws on the ground to tackle the invasive aliens that threaten the future survival of their unique wildlife. Many working dogs were first bred to be pest controllers in agricultural settings; now conservation dogs are used to find introduced rats and stoats on NZ’s island safe havens, feral cats in Australia, mongooses in Japan – even mussels and ants in the US that cause destruction and upset ecosystems.
It’s just one of the ways dogs are being employed to keep human activity in check. They have helped to survey wind farms in order to gauge bat fatalities – one trial showed how dogs were more than three times better at finding bat carcasses than humans. Dogs are also used at Kenya’s Mombasa port to sniff out illegal wildlife products, including rhino horn and ivory. At the end of August 2018, WWF, TRAFFIC and Kenya Wildlife Service started trialling a new method to boost how many shipments the dogs could sniff. By filtering air samples through special sniff pads, the dogs are able to work in a climate-controlled room instead of slogging around the docks in the hot sun visiting each container.
这只是狗被用来约束人类活动的一种方式。狗还能帮助人类调查风力发电场造成的蝙蝠死亡数。一项试验显示，狗在寻找蝙蝠尸体方面比人类强三倍多。在肯尼亚（Kenya）蒙巴萨（Mombasa）港，狗也被用来嗅出包括犀牛角和象牙在内的非法野生动物制品。2018年8月底，世界自然基金会(WWF)、国际野生物贸易研究组织（TRAFFIC）和肯尼亚野生动物服务中心(Kenya Wildlife Service)开始试验一种新方法，以增加狗能嗅出的非法走私货物的数量。这个新办法是通过特殊的嗅垫过滤空气样本，让工作犬在有空调的室内工作，而不是烈日下在码头上四处奔跑检查每个集装箱。
Elsewhere in Africa there are dogs working at the extreme frontline of conservation. Daryll Pleasants is the founder of Animals Saving Animals, an organisation dedicated to training dogs that take on poachers. Pleasants explains that their training is similar to that of police dogs since they are “managing a crime scene”. They must be able to locate where weapons have been fired, find evidence, track poachers through both rural and urban environments and ultimately apprehend them.
在非洲的其他地方，狗也战斗在环境保护的最前线。普莱森特（Daryll Pleasants）是动物拯救动物（Animals Saving Animals）组织的创始人，其工作是训练找寻偷猎者的追踪犬。普莱森特解释说，追踪犬的训练和警犬训练类似，因为追踪犬“管理着一个犯罪现场”，它们必须能够发现罪犯曾在何处开枪射杀动物，找到证据，在乡村和市区追踪偷猎者，并最终逮捕偷猎者归案。
“Although dogs are not a silver bullet in the fight against poaching they are a huge security force multiplier,” says Pleasants. “One dog is able to secure the same area as seven rangers with the detection skills to indicate on the presence of poacher up to a kilometre away in favourable conditions and the ability to track at night... Without doubt anti-poaching teams are now successfully fighting back and owning the conservancy at night which used to be the poacher’s killing field.”
The image of a handler repelling from a helicopter with a specially trained dog ready to take down wildlife criminals is a powerful one. For centuries we’ve described the dog as man’s best friend, now it seems that special relationship can be extended to help protect the world’s most vulnerable species too.