A Brand New Dog Training Program
We all know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. In fact, scientists estimate that it is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours! In Australia, dogs are being taught to detect when Tasmanian devils are ready to breed.
This is a brand new dog training program, run by Zoos Victoria, in the Australian state of Victoria. La Toya Jamieson at Zoos Victoria says that “Captive breeding can be quite challenging for Tasmanian devils.”
La Toya goes on to say that one reason for this is a change in some of the behaviors displayed by these uniquely Australian marsupials.
Specifically, some of the behaviors that a female Tasmanian devil would typically demonstrate when she is ready to breed. Many of these behaviors used to be quite obvious, but they have become more subtle over time.
In recent years, a horrible transmissible cancer, called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), has wiped out huge numbers of Tasmanian devils. Zoologists believe that the number of Tasmanian devils in the wild has fallen by around 80%, as a direct result of DFTD.
Meet Moss, A Trainee Detection Dog
Moss, a young Labrador, is a trainee detection dog. La Toya and her colleagues at Zoos Victoria are training Moss to find some of Victoria’s smallest and most elusive creatures. The energetic Labrador is part of Victoria state’s Detection Dog squad.
When female Tasmanian devils are ready to mate, they emit a chemical signal. The Detection Dog team is being trained to recognize and detect that signal. During training, the dogs have to smell the faeces of Tasmanian devils.
The handler walks the dog around a scent carousel. Incredibly, the dogs are able to identify the faeces that contain reproductive hormones.
By using the detection dogs in this way, it eliminates a lot of the ambiguity about whether or not a female Tasmanian devil is ready to mate. Consequently, the staff know when it’s a good time to introduce a male devil to the fertile female.
The Methods Could Help Other Species
Training dogs to detect when female Tasmanian devils are ready to breed, ultimately leads to a much higher chance of pregnancy. This, in turn, helps to increase the likelihood of stopping the endangered Tasmanian devil from becoming extinct.
The project is also hoping to find out if dogs can even detect pregnancy and lactation in female Tasmanian devils.
If this program proves to be successful, the team at Zoos Victoria are hopeful that these same methods could also help other endangered species.
As for Moss, he’s certainly enjoying being part of the amazing Detection Dog squad! Take a look at the video below to see how Moss is getting on.
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