Protected species and predator detection dog use in New Zealand wildlife conservation projects
- Department of Conservation, PO Box 305, Waipukurau 4242, New Zealand
In many New Zealand threatened species (birds, lizards, frogs, invertebrates) recovery programmes dogs are a significant conservation management tool. Protected species detection dogs have regularly been used to locate rare birds since the 1970’s and more recently lizards. They have been used to detect, but not capture, kakapo, takahe, kiwi, whio, pateke, taiko, skinks and geckos, for monitoring and translocation purposes. Kakapo would possibly be extinct today if dogs had not been used to locate birds on Stewart Island and Fiordland for translocation to predator-free islands before predators and old age eliminated these original remnant populations. Use of these dogs on the kiwi recovery projects has advanced the progress of these projects by about ten years.
Predator detection dogs support threatened species recovery programmes and their role is to enhance other predator control methods. They have been regularly used since 2002 following a successful three-year pilot project to prove their usefulness. These dogs are used to detect the presence of mammalian predators including rodents, mustelids, cat and hedgehog. They are particularly useful when predator numbers are low when other predator detection methods (tracking tunnels, traps, gnaw sticks) have difficulty confirming their presence. Once detected by the dogs the predators are killed using toxins, traps or shooting. Dogs are used for: surveillance of supposedly predator-free sites; as a tool to focus predator a process of handler application and interview, and a two-step assessment and certification system for dogs and handlers guide these Department of Conservation dog programmes. There are currently 11 predator dog handlers and 26 protected species dog handlers in the programmes.