SNIFFER dogs are famed for their nose for the exotic.
Now a North Wales company is working on a scheme that will train dogs to track cheetahs in the wild – by sniffing out their poo.
The world’s fastest land animal and one of its top predators, the cheetah is still on the endangered species list.
And Flintshire-based Wagtail UK is helping to find these elusive big cats in their native South Africa.
Louise Wilson, from Saltney, is just back from the country where she was a guest of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
The charity had approached Wagtail UK managing director Collin Singer and it was through him that fellow director Louise, 28, became involved.
She said: “I studied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Chester University and I have a passionate interest in conservation, so I was delighted to get involved.
“The EWT were interested to find out if dogs could work in their environment where the temperature is very high, it’s dusty and you are dealing with vast areas of land.
“I see huge potential for the use of dogs in this field because they are able to find rare animals in a non-invasive way. There’s no shooting them with dart guns, tranquillising them and fitting them with special tracking collars.
“The dogs can be trained to find their scat, they don’t bother or upset the cheetahs and it means the scats can be examined so that conservationists know what sort of diet the animals are eating and how healthy they are.”
Collin, a former RAF Police dog handler, set up Wagtail UK in 2003.
The company specialises in training and using sniffer dogs to detect everything from drugs to explosives and human bodies.
Louise has been working closely with Rox Brummer, EWT’s Carnivore Conflict Officer in northern South Africa.
Rox said: “Cheetahs are very shy cats and get stressed very easily and the darting procedure can be very risky for them.
“Using scat detection dogs means you can potentially sample all the animals in a population rather than just a few.”
The sniffer dog unit at the EWT is in its early stages, with facilities still under construction.
On Louise’s visit she helped Rox erect temporary kennels and a large tent for training.
She also started schooling two dogs, Minkie, a daschund, and Gala, a Malinois or Belgian Shepherd.
Louise believes both have the potential to detect cheetahs and another rare species, the blue swallow, with dogs trained to detect a scent in as little as 16 weeks.
Louise, head of training at Wagtail UK, also has five dogs of her own.
She added: “They’re ideal for finding things. If it has a scent then a dog can find it.”
To make donations to the Endangered Wildlife Trust or for more information visit www.ewt.org.za or contact Rox Brummer at firstname.lastname@example.org or Vanessa Bezuidenhout for funding at email@example.com, reference wagtail.
For information on Wagtail UK contact Louise Wilson on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or visit www.wagtailuk.com