Rare plants and animals saved by a nose

News article |

Researchers develop novel methods for protecting our rarest plants and animals, however, many approaches can be labour-intensive. Now there’s an efficient new conservation method which uses some of the most adorable workers you’re likely to meet – conservation detection dogs.

Rare plants and animals saved by a nose
Nessie, fox den hunting. Image: Cath Leo

Sniffing out fox dens to help protect hooded plovers

Across several SA landscape regions, the superlative sniffing powers of these canine detectives are being harnessed to rapidly find pest animals and rare species with pinpoint accuracy.

Nessie the springer spaniel has been trained by Conservation Detection Dogs SA to track fox scents and she’s been hard at work this year, sniffing out fox dens along the Adelaide and Fleurieu coastlines.

Foxes prey on the eggs and chicks of hooded plovers, one of Australia’s rarest beach-nesting birds, and reducing nearby fox numbers is essential for their protection.

Fox dens are often hidden in cryptic spots, taking many hours to find. But not for Nessie. Along the coast between Encounter Bay and Middleton she sniffed out 24 fox dens in just a couple of days. The dens could then be fumigated and collapsed, making life a lot safer for vulnerable plover eggs and chicks.

Rare plants and animals saved by a nose
Hooded plover and chick. Image: Martin Stokes

Nessie has also been working at Adelaide metro beaches.

Wearing her high-vis vest and with her handler Mandy Jones, Nessie took only 10 minutes to find her first fox den and 5 minutes to find the next one. At another site, already thoroughly searched by humans, Nessie found a well concealed den in just 8 minutes.

Together, Nessie and Mandy, who is a qualified vet nurse and dog behavioural specialist with many years of experience, are a formidable detection team.

The work of Nessie the Conservation Detection Dog on the Fleurieu Coast has been funded by Green Adelaide with support of the Hooded Plover Project partners.

Helping find burrows of the rare kowari

In the South Australian Arid Lands region, detection dogs were used to sniff out the rare kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei) as part of a University of Sydney PhD project that was supported by the SAAL Landscape Board.

These numbat-like marsupials are ultra-cute and grow up to 30 cm long, including their astonishing black brushy tail (Google them!).

The conservation dogs, trained by Skylos Ecology, have been finding the location of active kowari burrows. This helps researchers identify what makes certain habitat features attractive to the marsupial to guide future conservation work.

Rare plants and animals saved by a nose

Other species being helped by canine detectives

Nessie has also been trained to find the burrows of another threatened SA species, the pygmy blue tongue lizard. She and her daughter Maisie are also trained to detect the yellowish sedge skipper; a tiny, rare butterfly.

Dogs like Nessie are now used throughout Australia to protect koalas, flying foxes and lizards, as well as to sniff out rare underground orchids and noxious weeds.

With such a great track record, SA landscape boards plan to expand the use of detection dogs for other projects in the future.

See Nessie at work

Watch this video (2:46) to learn why we use Nessie to find fox dens, how she does it, and what happens when she finds one.

Read more about conservation dogs at work:

Nessie outfoxes unwelcome visitors on Fleurieu beaches (Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu)

Conservation dog sniffs out fox dens on Adelaide’s beaches (Green Adelaide)

Sniffing out Kowari (SA Arid Lands)

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