Sniffing for Science: These Dogs Smell Rare Species
by Antje Ullrich
Leipzig – Whether it is the work of an otter or a lair of smoots: the dogs of Dr. Nothing was left hidden from Ingrit Grimm Severth (33). They smell everyone with their piercing noses Little smell. They are dogs that are trained to spot species and are used in science. Together with the Saxons and her four assistants we go on a tasting tour.
The Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth is currently in the Leipzig region looking for smooth and crested mountain newts, or better: their hiding places. They are supported by Border Collie Zami (6), which specializes in newts, but also otters.
“In order to protect rare and endangered species, we first have to know where they are,” explains the researcher, who works at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig. “But it’s not easy if they live in hiding or nocturnal.” She says species detection dogs will do well quickly.
Scientist gives Zami a hand gesture in the jungle. Then he starts running excitedly.
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For him, it is all just a game. He runs first in one direction, then in the other, and his nose always remains close to the ground. Then he suddenly stopped, sniffed again and sat in front of a small tree trunk. He obediently waits for his mistress to be with him. You look at what the male discovered.
Success! Found a soft Zami Newt.
For a dog, searching should be a game
The fact that this works so well requires diligent work. First, the dog must know and learn to like the target scent, and finally, it must be trained to smell. “Dogs don’t always use their noses primarily, so they need to be trained to do so,” explains the dog trainer.
Last but not least, show restraint. Because instead of grabbing what was found, the four-legged friend might just indicate the destination.
So that work remains a game for the dog, there is a reward after every successful discovery. My obligator is now allowed to chase the ball and then gets a bonus. “This completes the chain of actions for him to hunt,” says the biologist, who is regularly called to construction sites.
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If Zami inhales a salamander protected there, the construction project may have to be stopped, altered, or the animals moved.
Big dog just looking for otter piles
Meanwhile, Vogtland’s longest-serving dog is waiting at home: Bagheera (13). In 2012, she brought up an Australian Cattle Dog Mix and taught him to only smell otter droppings.
“As a student, I got involved in otter monitoring, where you had to look for otter droppings and then genetically analyzed it. In fact, a third of the samples weren’t otters at all,” she says. Because the American mink, which is an invasive species, also likes to feed on fish.
It is difficult to distinguish traces of feces. “At the time, I thought it would be cool to train a tracker dog that only finds otters.”
Over ten years and countless “heaps” to be found later, Bagheera is now as good as a retiree and the offspring is already in the starting blocks, young Australian Cattle Dog foxy (1). Foxy is currently learning to track down natterjack frogs for a newly launched species project, and spends a lot of time in the open-pit mines near Leipzig.
However, she should not find the field hamster, which almost disappeared in Saxony. Maybe a future project? “This is already being done in southern Germany,” says the scientist. She’s sure, with a little training, dogs can point to populated burrows.
You can learn more about Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth and its clients at: www.monitoring-dogs.de.
Volunteers wanted the animal
Feel like sniffing along? Then, dog owners from Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Berlin can apply with their four-legged friends to the citizen science project “IGAMON”.
The project runs until September 2024 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. “Basically, the dog has to be mature and healthy,” says Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth. “He must enjoy doing research and of course wanting to do something with people. So it’s not a question of breed, it’s about the individual.”
However: only 15 dogs are trained each year as Hobby Species Conservation Dogs as part of the project. Then they go in search of invasive plants such as ragweed, Himalayan balsam, or Japanese sakhalin.
“It’s easier to get permits for the plants, because as a citizen you can’t just hunt for protected animals. This is illegal hunting and totally prohibited,” she warns.
The researchers hope that the project will enable citizens to discover plants in different stages, i.e. as a plant, fading, or just a rootstock. “If it doesn’t flower, you can remove the invasive plants. Otherwise, they spread too quickly.”
Information about the project at: www.igamon.de.
Cover photo: Editing: André Künzelmann / UFZ + private
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