Monday, 15 August 2011

Conservation dogs visit to Working Dogs For Conservation in Montana

View from our camp/resort
The last month has been amazing for us and to top it off we have just returned from Montana after Visiting Working Dogs For Conservation for nearly two weeks. I was kindly invited by Megan Parker and Alice Whitelaw to assist with their project in the Centennial valley of Montana searching for scats of the suit of carnivores there. I was to assist Megan Parker (Handler) and beautiful Pepin (Malinois) in Orienteering, scat collection and data recording.
Megan and Pepin

 Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) had been employed by the Wildlife Land Trust to conduct scat searches in this beautiful area over a 5 day period, whilst staying at the amazing Elk Lake Resort.

WDC Conservation projects focus on three areas:-

Corridors & Connectivity: WDC provides the data necessary to identify corridors, allowing animals to move freely across landscapes, in-between and among suitable habitats, increasing genetic exchange between populations and moderating some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation.
Invasive Species: Given their ability to rapidly spread and out-compete native species, severely altering the structure of entire ecosystems, invasives are now considered the second-most pressing conservation issue. In response, WDC scientists have taken the lead in developing the use of conservation dogs to detect invasive animals and plants.
Wildlife Monitoring: Close and regular monitoring to manage and protect endangered species is essential for their long-term survival.  WDC has pioneered the use of dogs as a non-invasive research option, providing the data necessary to assess populations, their health and their habitat requirements, crucial for their survival.
Wildlife Land Trust Team, including Executive Director, photographers, journalists, and Pepin, Megan and myself.
Pepin is trained to indicate on scats from :-
  • Wolf
  • Wolverine
  • Fisher
  • Grizzley Bear
  • Black Bear
  • Mountain Lion
Also a number of invasive plant species such as Dyer's Woad, and other target species for other international projects that WDC are involved in.

Pepin is just amazing, he is such a hard working dog, so energetic, so focused and an amazing and happy dog. In total we had 8 people and a dog staying in a 5 bedroom Resort cabin at Elk Lake Resort, Red Rocks wildlife Refuge Montana, So Pepin was surrounded by new people all the time, he also had a photographer always near and many people around when he was searching- however not once did he become distracted. He was a delight to watch and Megan even allowed me to handle him also which was also amazing.

Pepin was followed by a photographer at most times and didnt become destrcated at all.


 The 5 days of searches consisted of an early rise around 5.30 am to get all our kit sorted in the truck and get on the road. The earlier the search the better- we needed to get the cool time of the day to allow us to search for longer. As by 10 am the sun has risen and the temperature is very hot.
As I was in charge of the GPS navigator (orienteering), the compass, collecting the scat, recording GPS location, and recording all scats and details I had lots to carry...not mentioning the Bear Spray for safety just in case we came across some Bears on our searches..

Louise Wilson all kitted out, including Scat bag and Bear Spray

The scat searches lasted for at least 5 hours a day, with breaks throughout the search at times where the terrain was difficult or the heat and humidity was high. Luckily the area we were searching has many springs and streams that helped Pepin cool down when necessary.

The searches where in such amazing setting, great scenery and outstanding beauty to say the least it was an amazing venture being involved in such a great opportunity.

Beautiful scenery at the location of our scat searches.

Pepin found so many scats on our visit, more than we expected especially on the first day of searches where we collected more than 10 scats. We at one point nearly ran out of scat envelopes for collection. Pepin's indication is a lovely lie on the ground right next to the scat. He then if asked to do so by Megan- can point out the scat "show me" where he pin points the exact scat without touching it or contaminating the sample.

When Pepin indicated on a scat- Megan then would go to see Pepin and see if she could see the Scat. Once Pepin had pinpointed the scat for Megan, she would then Reward Pepin with his tug toy and play with him.  I , the orienteer would then collect the scat and mark the location.

After Pepin had been rewarded, and moved away from the area where the scat was. I collected the Scat and placed it in an envelope to air dry. I also marked the area with the GPS and took down some details for the data sheet. The scat in question in this photo is suspected to be Bear Scat. This was reletively fresh so we knew bears where close by.

 A Wolverine Trap that we came across when searching, as well as lots of Bear signs and warning. The terrain changed from flat prairie to steep mountains, to cliff face and  marshy ground also. Lots of different obstacle for Pepin to get use to but he seemed to have no problem at all.
He seemed to do better in this environment than most people did.

 All scats collected had to be logged in the GPS, as well as all data needed to be recorded, including Pepin's indication, the Scat details, Location, elevation, distance from water and tree coverage etc

 The organisation that we where with requested that also for Non target scats to be collected if we came across any, this means any scats that Pepin hasn't been trained on, and one's he would usually ignore had to be collected also. This is due to the Search requirements as most carnivore species are needed to be recorded on this individual search.
This is not normally required and if this is needed other scat collectors are normally present (Human Search Teams). Pepin is taken away from any areas that non target scats are found, to ensure he does not show interest in the scat due to the handler and orienteer showing interest in the scat. This can result in a dog false indicating as the handler or orienteer bias the dog and promote a false alert.

After the 5 days of searching, I had a great understanding and appreciation on the vast amount of work Pepin does in comparison to any human search team. He covers such a large area and he covers the area very thoroughly.
He is focused at all time and seems to last longer than humans with his energy as well as motivation. He know when he is tired or hot and he seeks shade and may rest. He is so aware of his own body, his search capability and how far or how close he should be to his handler.

Megan allowed me to handle Pepin in training, however he didn't need m uch handling as he knows his stuff so well it was no time before he had found the training scent.

This Visit has made me even more determined to use dogs withing Conservation in the UK the effectiveness and efficiency of a Dog team is unbelievable. Not mentioning the non invasive method that seems so natural and true to the environment to which we are searching. I have learnt so much in my visit and would be honoured to one day work with WDC on any of their projects with them and Conservation Dogs.

WDC are a Non Profit Organisation and the work they do is amazing, inspiring and exciting. As a result of such searches they have been able to contribute to many scientific papers and research project, helping endagered animals as well as helping stop Invasive plant species from spreading.
If you would like more details about Conservation Dogs visit to Montana and the work that Working Dogs For Conservation do please dont hessitate to contact us or Megan Parker at WDC. Alternatively if you would like to donate to WDC please click on this link and donate generously. once you read about the work they do you will be inspired just as much as I was.


1 comment:

  1. Some great photos there Louise. And Pepin is such a lovely looking dog. The work that WDC do is amazing.....