IN another entry for Lithgow innovation Australia’s very first conservation dingo is being trained for action at Lithgow’s Secret Creek sanctuary.
Fred, a one-year-old pure bred dingo, is being groomed to become a pest control dog and is showing a lot of promise in his initial training.
“The dingo is a natural enemy of foxes and cats,” Secret Creek owner Trevor Evans said.
“This gives dingos an edge over more domesticated dogs in trying to detect feral pest animals.”
Fred is set to be the first of many conservation canines, with Secret Creek being instrumental in helping to create one of Australia’s first conservation dog foundations.
The new Australian Conservation K-9’s Society, founded by Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc (AEFI), is designed to promote and facilitate the use of dogs in the conservation field for the purposes of locating endangered species, finding pest animals and preserving the natural environment.
The first official use of sniffer dogs for conservation was in 1997 by Dr Samuel Wasser, Director of the Centre for Conservation Biology and the Conservation Canines program in Washington, USA.
Mr Wasser spent three years working with the head narcotics dog trainer for the Washington State Department of Corrections, modifying the methods used and adapting them for animal detection.
Since then a growing appreciation for the value of dogs in the conservation field has grown, with similar foundations springing up all over the world.
Training involves familiarising the dog with the scent of the animal it is seeking, either directly or through animal droppings.
When the dog finds the animal in question it either barks or uses a ‘passive alert’, dropping and staying to signal a find.
Some of the more traditional methods used for locating endangered species have included the use of remote cameras, radio collaring, hair snags and trapping, but these methods have proven costly and unreliable in locating some of nature’s more elusive inhabitants.
Head Ranger at Secret Creek sanctuary Shaun Hooper believes the use of dogs in tracking down ‘cryptic creatures’ will be extremely effective.
“The use of dogs is also very cost effective given the price in manpower and technology we have previously used to find shy animals,” Mr Hooper said.
AEFI committee member, ecologist and part-time lecturer at Macquarie University Jim Shields reiterated these statements.
“A trained dog can enter a forest and find endangered species far more quickly and accurately than any person or technology can.
“Without the support of Trevor (Evans) and the Secret Creek sanctuary this project would never have gotten off the ground.”
Originally from Kansas USA, Mr Shields is perhaps most famous for his work with Australia’s first koala detection dog Oscar, a spirited labrador-border collie cross.
Mr Shields has recently been busy managing fauna and flora for Forests NSW which manages two million hectares of native and planted forests across the state.
By conducting koala surveys with Oscar, Mr Shields was able to detect the presence of koalas across large areas of native bushland and give accurate population numbers.
“In south east NSW there are many species that are hard to find which makes it difficult to protect and conserve them,” Mr Shields said.