“Cheetah research gone to the dogs”

A very well trained border collie, Finn, has been called into cheetah field research in Africa.20090220_dn_g1chee20c
Chris Bartos and her dog, Finn, who she trained to detect cheetah feces, will help Cheetah Conservation Fund researchers studying cheetahs in the wilds of Namibia, Africa.

Finn’s job will be to sniff out cheetah scat (poop) so that movements of the cheetahs, the world’s fastest land animals, can be tracked for science. Finn is owned by the Philadelphia Zoo and raised and trained by zoo curator Chris Bartos, who traveled with Bartos to Africa, where the collie is now working for the Cheetah Consevation Fund.

Why use a well trained dog to do this research?

Dogs are naturally equipped with an enhanced olfactory system allowing them to detect scents undetectable by humans. They are sensitive to air currents and capable of localizing odors to get to the source location of the sample. Their sense of smell is more than 1,000 times as keen as the human odor receptors in the nose.

  • Dogs do not influence or alter the target species’ behavior.
  • Dogs are not affected by the visual appearance of samples, and know the difference between cheetah and other animal scat.
  • Dog teams are able to cover a larger geographic area faster and more completely than humans .
  • Dogs can locate multiple target species within a search area and ignore non-targeted species. Dogs can pinpoint the exact location of a target sample, whether exposed or masked by the environment.
  • Dogs will not revisit a previously located sample so they can locate multiple samples in a small area.

Bartos got Finn as a puppy from Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue nearly two years ago.

“I picked him from the four boys in the litter because we were playing with them on the floor and Finn dived into my training bag and took all the toys out,” she said.

She decided he had a good “toy drive.”

Finn’s only recompense for finding the feces? A ball and a toy, Bartos said.

Bartos and Finn learned the tracking ropes at a detection-dog training program in Seattle.

They had to provide their own cheetah scat, frozen and shipped from the zoo in dry ice to train Finn.

Dogs are being used to sniff out the scat of endangered species like black bear, wolves, kit foxes, grizzly bears, kangaroos, cougar, right whales. The location of the scat is recorded with a GPS device and it’s then collected. Geneticists analyze the samples to determine what the cheetahs have eaten and can extract DNA to identify individual cats, helping determine each cheetah’s population size, fertility, gender, stress, and extent of each cheetah’s range home range.

Pack Leader Dog Training in Washington has trained 20 dogs, most of which came from humane societies or city pounds have been trained. She looks for large, energetic mutts with a strong desire to play those same traits that brought them to live at the shelter. The dogs are excellent at scat-detector work are not adoptable to the general public. These dogs are too high energy and high drive for the untrained public.

It takes about six weeks from the time the dogs come out of the shelter to the time they go on assignment. A reward-based training method is used, and the dogs are taught to work independently, allowing different people to handle them in the field. Barbara and Steve trained scat dogs for various research projects involving the black and grizzly bear, to Mojave Desert Tortoise, the cougar and now the cheetah research run by Cheetah Conservation Fund.

For more information from Nature’s Crusaders’ library on cheetahs click.

Help Save the Cheetah join the RUN for the Cheetah 2010

To help save the cheetahs please donate or adopt a cheetah today. Cheetah.org

Please help us save the wild cheetah. Donate Now.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund is supported globally by affiliate non-profit organizations in the United States, United Kingdom, Namibia, Canada, Japan, Holland, Italy and Germany.


Resources

Excerpts and image reprinted with permission of Cheetah.org and GLORIA CAMPISI Philadelphia Daily News Getting_the_straight_poop_on_cheetahs

Curtis Bjurlin, Endangered Species Recovery Program, Fresno, CA http://www.packleaderdogtraining.net/CDDSERVICES.html

“Scat Dogs” Sniff Out Endangered Species Feces – Maryann Mott for National Geographic News October 1, 2003.news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/10/1001_031001_scatdogs

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