Thursday, August 16, 2012

Scat Dogs Spot Owls

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 at 11:17 AM

click to enlarge max-the-owl-sniffer.png

No, they're not canine masters of jazzy nonsense, crooning in the moonlight. They're the University of Washington's Center for Conservation Biology detection dogs Shrek and Max, who've been trained to sniff out northern spotted owl pellets (the undigested stuff they hack up after a meal) at the bases of trees (and thusly find the owls).

Hey, works better than humans hooting for them, explains Lawrence LeBlond, writing on redOrbit.com about the UW research, which recently was published in the science journal PLoS ONE. The research, conducted on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, compared the use of vocalizations to find owls to the use of the specially trained dogs. Notes LeBlond, though land managers and biologists have been hooting for spotted owls since the 1980s, "detection dogs have a much better track record at finding the species" -- especially now, as barred owls increasingly encroach upon spotted owl habitat and affect their behavior:

Experts are concerned that spotted owls may be timid about responding to vocalizations for instinctual fear that they are opening themselves up to attack if they do. ... The experts said the detection dogs improved the probability of finding the owls by 30 percent over the traditional vocalization methods.

The UW's dog-detectives website profiles many of its highly trained smartymutts. Max, it reveals, is a 7-year-old Australian cattle dog adopted from the Everett Animal Shelter in Washington in September 2007. Besides the Northern spotted owl, Max can sniff out wolverine, barred owl, grizzly bear, black bear, American pine marten, tiger and leopard.

Holy cow.

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Heidi Walters

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Heidi Walters has been a staff writer with the North Coast Journal since 2005.

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