ABSTRACT

In conservation, consistent and extensive under-funding has necessitated creative thinking to address conservation issues on a low budget, and innovations are burgeoning as a result. One example is the use of dogs that, thanks to their heightened olfactory abilities and bond with humans, are trained to detect odours of interest to conservationists. Conservation dogs have proven to repeatedly outperform alternative survey methods in terms of accuracy, efficiency and/or cost. They have now been used for the detection of endangered and invasive species, fauna and flora, direct and indirect (e.g. scat) targets, on land and at sea, across every continent and most taxa from fire ants to whales. Here, we emphasise the versatility of detection dogs through their multiple uses applied to one species, the koala Phascolarctos cinereus. We selected, trained, tested and deployed five dogs; two for koala habitat (koala scats), one for genetic sampling (fresh scats only), one for the koala itself and one for koala disease (Chlamydia spp.) detection. Dogs enabled both large-scale and fine-scale survey design, with 2370 surveys performed, and 1479 genetic samples collected to date. Detection dogs are subject to similar (although sometimes much lower) limitations in terms of survey biases (e.g. individual or environmental conditions) and, importantly, detection dog/handler teams need to be tested regularly for accuracy. Nonetheless, detection dogs can, and are, helping researchers and land managers to collect more robust datasets and better inform conservation decisions. Alliances with unexpected partners in conservation (such as with police forces), citizen science, and timeshare use of dogs might improve the democratisation of their use and enable conservation detection dogs to fulfil their astonishing potential.

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