Instructing outdated dogs new methods: sniffer dogs serving to detect seabirds

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An modern examine, led by the RSPB, has been testing the flexibility of dogs to trace seabirds that nest in burrows. The researchers having been testing their dogs’ skill to detect Manx shearwater and European storm petrels, and whether or not dogs can differentiate between these two seabird species. Seabirds are probably the most threatened teams of birds and it’s hoped this examine will help their monitoring and conservation.

Within the paper printed lately within the Journal Seabird, the RSPB group documented the coaching, testing and efficiency of a one-year outdated golden retriever to detect the scent of European storm petrels, and whether or not the dog might differentiate between these and Manx shearwaters; and a 12-year outdated border collie’s skill to detect Manx shearwaters breeding in pure burrows and synthetic nest packing containers.

Scent dogs have usually been used for conservation for many years, together with detecting elusive and endangered animals. They’re significantly efficient at detecting birds that breed in cavities and are solely energetic above floor nocturnally (reminiscent of kiwis and kakapos).

Storm Petrel, copyright Richard Stonier, from the surfbirds galleries

Many seabirds present these similar traits and a few, together with the storm petrels, are well-known for his or her robust odour. Nevertheless, utilizing scent dogs to detect seabirds has not been frequent apply in UK regardless of difficulties in finding, and surveying, their burrows.

The storm petrel is the UK’s smallest seabird, weighing simply 25 – 30 grams – the identical as three £1 cash. Nevertheless these seabirds spend most of their time at sea, and solely coming to land to breed. Manx shearwaters are equally ocean-loving, breeding on land within the UK earlier than migrating to the South American coast for winter.

Surveying for these two species is fraught with difficulties resulting from their nocturnal and burrow-nesting behaviours. Each are threatened within the UK.

Dog A, a golden retriever known as Islay, was educated to find and point out storm petrel feathers utilizing commonplace strategies. As soon as Islay was capable of accurately detect and point out the goal, the handlers measured her accuracy in figuring out storm petrel areas utilizing randomly positioned scented pads, and so they measured her skill to distinguish storm petrel scent from Manx shearwater.

Dog B, a Border Collie known as Dewi, is a working sheepdog that assists with livestock administration on Ramsey Island and used to detect Manx shearwater burrows. Dewi had learnt to discriminate between occupied and unoccupied burrows and lay down to point occupied burrows.

The examine discovered that, with ample coaching and reward, Islay might pinpoint the exact location of the hid storm petrel goal and to distinguish between storm petrel and Manx shearwater scents with 100% reliability. Nevertheless, care was wanted to make sure no cross-contamination of scents occurred. Equally Dewi has a excessive success charge to find shearwater nest burrows, though he was much less profitable at finding deep burrows, presumably as a result of there was much less shearwater scent on the burrow entrance.

The findings are extraordinarily promising in highlighting the worth of scent dogs to find out the presence of explicit seabird species at breeding websites the place their presence is unknown.

RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist and lead creator of the paper, Mark Bolton stated: “This work highlights the outstanding scent detection capabilities of dogs and their largely untapped potential to help seabird monitoring in UK. The current use of specially-trained scent dogs to find the nest burrows of storm petrels at a newly-discovered colony on the Isle of Might final autumn is additional proof of the real-world potential of scent dogs for seabird monitoring and I hope that this examine will encourage extra conservation practitioners to utilise scent dogs of their work.”

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