Dogs Help Sniff Out Crop-Endangering Snails
PBS states that most people know that dogs are good with their noses. After all, their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute as humans', PBS states. Scientists on the Galapagos Islands have decided to use this sense of smell to their advantage. According to ABC News, they are currently using two Labrador Retrievers to help sniff out massive African land snails that are endangering crops all over the island.
An unexpected change
The Texas-born canine pair did not come to the island with this task in mind. Initially, they were part of a service dog program for people, but did not succeed in it due to their inability to focus. As an alternative, Darwin and Neville were selected in December 2014 to track down these hungry mollusks on Santa Cruz, the largest and most populous island.
Both pups are part of the Dogs for Conservation program that helps maintain wildlife in collaboration with dogs. While Darwin and Neville are still in training, they have come a long way. This type of activity has helped calm and focus the pair.
The duo are the first dogs to ever be asked to help conserve the Galapagos environment. For years, the 19 islands' ecosystems have been threatened in a series of ways, including by humans. Yet these snails are one of conservationists' top concerns. Interim director of the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, Martin Espinosa, told ABC News that the snails are some of the most invasive in the world. They also carry diseases and pose a threat to other animals.
Espinosa noted that he and his colleagues used to venture out to try and find the snails at night, but were often very unsuccessful. With the help of Darwin and Neville, they are hopeful their search will have much better results. These snails affect several crops on the major island, including coffee, pineapples, bananas, carrots, tomatoes, peppers and cassava. As a result, the local economy has taken a hit, and it is affecting local profits.
Conservationists want to be able to stop the invasive species from entering the islands in the first place. They plan to put a total of at least eight dogs at the islands' airports and harbors within the next two years to stop this species from migrating in.
A growing trend
While using dogs in this way is the first time for Galapagos, detection dogs have been involved in other countries to service wildlife. In 2011, biologists from University of California Berkeley trained dogs to smell excrement of other species so they could get an accurate survey on the number of rare species living in the area.
"Wildlife detection dogs have been mostly used in airports to detect contraband, including endangered species and wildlife products, but in recent years, interest has grown in using the dogs to help scientists track biological targets in natural settings," lead UC Berkeley biologist Sarah Reed wrote in her findings, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
Dogs have also been used in Mexico, Australia, Chile and New Zealand to track down other types of animals that are harmful to the environment.