These Detection Dogs Are Match-Makers for Endangered Tasmanian Devils
Tasmanian devils are, despite their small size and relatively cute appearance, not easy animals to love. As the world's largest carnivorous marsupial, these ravenous little critters possess one of the most powerful bites relative to body mass in the world. They tend to smell bad (to us at least), they're fierce and sour tempered, and easy to locate thanks to their charmingly melodious banshee shrieks.
They're also endangered. This means conservation groups in their native Australia have been doing their part to help maintain and grow devil populations, both in captivity and in the wild. And you don't have to be an expert in species conservation to know that one of the biggest keys to a healthy population of animals is to keep on making more animals.
This is where detection dogs like Moss, who's actually part of Zoos Victoria's Fighting Extinction Dog Squad, come in. For centuries, dogs have been incredibly useful for locating everything from missing humans to drugs to bombs to bed bugs—even viruses! Their keen sense of smell can be trained to hone in on a variety of scents that are undetectable to human noses. This is turning out to be a potentially invaluable skill when it comes to Tasmanian devil mating, thanks to how they use their poop. That's a weird sentence.
To explain: So over time, the ways in which female devils express their readiness to mate have gotten increasingly subtle, Zoos Victoria'a La Toya Jamieson told the BBC. This has, it turns out, led to a decrease in the number of Tazzie babies, especially in captivity, because the fellas will sometimes miss these windows completely.
Well, it turns out that one of the ways females indicate that they are in heat is by a special pheromone that they deposit in their poops that is a little bit like putting an ad on Craigslist. It says, "This is who I am, this is what I'm looking for, and here's how you can find me" to any males who wander by it. Now, Moss's trainers are teaching him to identify the smell as well. The hope being that Moss can give a female devil's scat a sniff, and if the pheromone is present, conservationists know it's time to introduce a male to the equation. Brilliant!
"This program, if it is successful, will be highly beneficial for other captive wildlife species in the future, which could greatly increase our breeding success in captivity and also the release of these individuals into the wild," Jamieson told the BBC.
Conservationists hope that detection dogs just like Moss can eventually be used to track and locate exceedingly rare animals, and endangered species That are traditionally small, highly camouflaged or otherwise difficult for humans to find on their own. All of which is just another feather in the already full cap that is Dogdom: Not only have they saved countless human lives over the course of history, but now they could be used to keep some of our most critically endangered species alive as well. Good boy, Moss.