Fighting Extinction Dog Squad

These dogs are helping to protect some of Australia’s most threatened species.

Bandicoot Bodyguards

Maremma Dogs and Eastern Barred Bandicoots may seem like strange bedfellows but their relationship could help bring the bandicoot back from the brink of extinction.

The Guardian Dog program will trial whether bandicoots, protected by specially trained Maremma Guardian Dogs, will be able to form self-sustaining populations in areas that are not enclosed by feral proof fences.

This trial draws on the success of programs such as the Middle Island Maremma Dog Project (Warrnambool) where Maremmas have successfully protected Little Penguins from fox predation.

Maremmas are a breed of guardian dog that originated in Italy and have been used for centuries to successfully guard livestock.

They are considered ideal for conservation work because they can bond to an array of animals, defend them from introduced predators and have a low prey-drive.

Once widespread across the basalt plains of South-Western Victoria, Eastern Barred Bandicoots are now extinct in the wild on mainland Australia as a result of habitat loss and predation from introduced predators, such as foxes.

Breeding programs and reserves surrounded by feral-proof fences have been critical to establishing an insurance population of this species. Now, we have an opportunity to bring the Eastern Barred Bandicoot back from the brink of extinction.

Program Partners
  • Dunkeld Pastoral Company
  • The Federal and Victorian Governments
  • Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre
  • Tiverton Property Partners
  • National Trust of Australia
  • Mooramong
  • The Australian Research Council
  • The University of Tasmania
  • Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team
Program Supporters who helped secure the funding
  • The Dyson Bequest
  • John Cochrane
  • The Scobie and Claire Mackinnon Trust
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning
  • Threatened Species Commissioner Discretionary Grants
  • Australian Research Council

Fighting Extinction Wildlife Detection Dog Program

The Fighting Extinction Wildlife Detection Dog Program based at Healesville Sanctuary trains dogs to assist Zoos Victoria’s Threatened Species Biologists to monitor wildlife, enhancing and complimenting current survey methods. Through the use of their superior olfactory senses, dogs are able to detect species that are challenging to see or locate.

Detection dogs are therefore valuable partners in our quest to conserve threatened species in Victoria and beyond, with the extent of their abilities only beginning to be explored.

The Wildlife Detection Dog Program is separated into two branches - the Fighting Extinction Dog Squad and the Detection Dog Research Team.

Fighting Extinction Dog Squad

The Dog Squad harnesses the relationship between humans and dogs that has been forged over thousands of years, and applies the latest scientific advances in animal training, husbandry and welfare. Our specially selected dogs go through extensive training to ensure they are bonded with their handlers, and are safe and effective in the field. The Dog Squad can be deployed across Victoria to detect various threatened species, including Broad-toothed rats, Baw-Baw frogs and Plains-wanderers.

Detection dogs locate both live animals and traces, such as scats or burrows. Upon locating their target, the dogs alert by sitting and pointing their nose in the direction of the animal or sample. The dogs are trained to search steadily and alert to their target at a distance which ensures the animals are not disturbed.

Members of Zoos Victoria’s Wildlife Detection Dog Specialist Team have backgrounds in wildlife biology and ecology, as well as dog training, and have a strong belief in ensuring best practice animal welfare is the highest priority, both for our dogs and for wildlife.

Name: Moss

Pet name: Bubba Moss or Bubba

Background: Adopted from Pawfect Pals Animal Rescue

Birthday: February 2018

Breed: Labrador retriever

What he brings to the team: Moss is a special combination of energy and excitability, whilst also having a very steady working speed that is ideal for searching around threatened species. We were impressed by Moss upon first meeting him and watching him beautifully ignore a flock of free range chickens, even leaping over some in order to suddenly avoid running into them.

Target species: Broad toothed-rats which are an endangered rodent, currently threatened by habitat degradation, introduced species and bushfires.

Detection Dog Research Team

In addition to the Fighting Extinction Dog Squad, we employ the skills of dogs in the Zoos Victoria Detection Dog Research Team. This team of pet dogs has a diverse range of backgrounds, skills and experiences, and as a result can be trained for a variety of research purposes and field applications. Our research projects aim to explore novel uses for detection dogs that will advance the methodology and aid conservation efforts, both in captivity and the field. Our projects occur in collaboration with multiple partners, including universities, conservation organisations and detection dog groups.

Thank you to our partners and program contributers

  • La Trobe University's Anthrozoology Research Group Dog Lab and Wildlife Endocrinology Lab. 
  • PetStock
  • Bunnings Warehouse


Dr La Toya Jamieson

Wildlife Detection Dog Officer

Naomi Hodgens

Wildlife Detection Dog Officer

Chris Hartnett

Threatened Species Project Officer