Fighting Extinction Dog Squad
These dogs are helping to protect some of Australia’s most threatened species.
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.
Guardian Dog Squad Training
Behind the scenes at Werribee Open Range Zoo, a squad of eight working dogs are in currently in training.
This training takes the form, of gradual introduction to sheep, Eastern Barred Bandicoots and other native species as the pups mature into adults.
Because bandicoots are small, nocturnal and shy, the Maremmas will be bonded with sheep as well as bandicoots. The sheep will provide the dogs with a focus during the daylight hours when bandicoots are sleeping.
The squad is made up of four male and four female dogs from a range of ages with each dog expected to mature at approximately two years of age.
When they have matured and they will be paired together and begin work at trial sites including Tiverton Station, a private reserve in Western Victoria and Mooramong, a National Trust property near Skipton.
Monitoring of introduced predators in these trial sites is underway, with the dogs expected to begin work in these sites in 2017.
If successful, the trial could result in the creation of a Fighting Extinction Dog Squad, a specially trained squad of dogs that protect and help monitor a host of native wildlife.
Special thanks to:
- The Federal and Victorian Governments
- Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre
- Tiverton Property Partners
- National Trust of Australia
- 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
Zoos Victoria established the Fighting Extinction Detection Dog Program to trial the effectiveness of dogs to assist in field surveys of threatened species such as the Baw Baw Frog and Plains-wanderer.
This program is a new approach in threatened species monitoring and sits alongside the Guardian Dog Program.
Detection Dogs use their superior sense of smell to help locate and monitor threatened species that may be difficult to find using our sight or hearing alone.
Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of smell is thought to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than humans.
How do Detection Dogs help fight wildlife extinction?
The dogs can be trained to track the scent of specific animals. This highly effective and non-invasive approach to detection and monitoring has been recognised as a valuable technique to provide evidence of threatened species and their population distribution.
Dogs can also cover a large area much quicker than humans and can work in challenging environments and difficult terrain. As a result, Detection Dogs may prove in many cases to be more efficient and accurate than alternative surveying methods.
Detection Dog training
The dogs are specially trained to find a specific odour using samples from target species sourced from animals in the Zoos Victoria collection. This can include feathers, skin swabs, scats, or eggs.
When they locate live animals or traces, the dogs alert their handler by gently dropping down and touching their nose to the ground by the nest, burrow or scat without disturbing it. In the case of the Baw Baw Frog, dogs will alert next to the opening of a burrow that can extend deep under the ground.
Thanks to our partners:
- Baw Baw Frog Recovery Team
- Canidae Development
- Elanus Consulting