Using Scent-Detection Dogs for Locating and Monitoring Black-Footed Ferrets:
Creating a Powerful New Tool For Ferret Conservation Across their Range
The continued recovery of the federally endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a species once thought to be extinct, is dependent on timely and appropriate management to mitigate the many challenges this species faces today. These management actions inherently rely on the efficacy of survey techniques for this semi-fossorial, nocturnal, and elusive mustelid. Although spotlight surveys are considered to be the most effective means for monitoring ferrets, this technique does have its limitations (e.g., limited spatial and temporal scale, low detection rates, difficult to conduct). Ferret managers are in need of effective alternative or supplemental techniques as recovery continues and the need for efficient use of limited resources increases. Thus, evaluating novel survey techniques that can enhance monitoring for ferrets will benefit recovery and conservation efforts for this species.
Professionally trained scent-detection dogs have been used to survey a wide variety of difficult-to-detect species and have initially shown potential as an effective tool for detecting ferrets. During 2017-2018, renewed efforts to evaluate this technique occurred in Wyoming, and provided evidence that scent-detection dogs could locate individual ferrets and identify areas of high use by ferrets. While the Meeteetse results were encouraging, conclusive evaluation of dogs as a tool will require real-time monitoring of ferrets moving across a natural landscape.
Through a collaborative effort with Working Dogs for Conservation, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have developed a project in Arizona that capitalizes on real-time location data from radiomarked ferrets as part of ongoing study being conducted by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Our project is based at the Aubrey Valley Reintroduction Area, where trained scent-detection dogs will be used to locate radiomarked ferrets with known real-time locations, thus enabling an accurate assessment of this survey technique for black-footed ferrets.
Check out more black-footed ferret monitoring by Working Dogs for Conservation here.
A black-footed ferret peers out from a prairie dog burrow in Aubrey Valley, Arizona. Photo Credit: Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Tule, a professionally trained scent-detection dog, alerts for detection of a black-footed ferret in a prairie dog burrow ferret in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Dog handler Melissa Steen, Working Dogs for Conservation, sends encouraging commands to the dog. Photo credit: Working Dogs for Conservation.
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