Washington, May 13 : Sniffing dogs are helping to monitor and protect threatened wildlife in Brazil by detecting animal feces by scent.
In particular, four trained dogs in the Cerrado region of Brazil, are helping researchers monitor rare and threatened wildlife such as jaguar, tapir, giant anteater and maned wolf in and around Emas National Park, a protected area with the largest concentration of threatened species in Brazil.
The dogs are trained in the same manner as those trained to sniff out drugs.
When the dogs find the feces, the accompanying researcher marks the location with a GPS (Global Positioning System) and collects the samples. With the aid of satellite images, the sample data are correlated with the environments where the samples were found.
The research team, led by Carly Vynne of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, then analyze feces found by the dogs to learn about where and how the threatened mammals live.
According to Professor Jader Marinho Filho of the University of Brasilia, sniffing dogs can collect data that otherwise would only be available through radio telemetry and other expensive and labor-intensive techniques.
Tracking dogs also are non-intrusive, collecting biological material without capturing or sedating animals, and the information they help gather is essential.
"The levels of stress hormones in the animals' feces are important indicators in the evaluation of their capacity to reproduce in a given environment," said Marinho Filho. These data allow us to estimate which mammals would be able to reproduce or if they would be destined to disappear from the region," he added.
Data such as numbers, range, diet, hormonal stress, parasites and even genetic identity contribute to a study of how the mammals use environments inside and outside the park, especially on privately owned lands of the region.
The information helps develop conservation and development strategies that meet the needs of both the animals and local farmers.
The project's analysis of feces samples shows that all the species studied use the area surrounding the park, but that farms with less than 30 percent of natural vegetation cover have fewer endangered mammals.
Jaguar, however, rarely moved outside the protected park into the more deforested surrounding farmland, as they require the healthy ecosystems of conserved environments.
According to Vynne, preservation of open grasslands should be a priority for maned wolf, giant anteater and giant armadillo since these species prefer open areas of park but there is very little open area under protection outside the park.
"The data and results serve as a warning to develop conservation strategies for the restoration of degraded areas in the region, both to conserve healthy ecosystems and biodiversity," said Vynne.