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Dogs have great olfactory abilities and wildlife biologists think they can help endangered waterbirds in Hawai‘i. Dogs are being trained to sniff out the endangered ducks (koloa maoli (Anas wyvilliana) and Laysan ducks (A. laysanensis)) that die of avian botulism. 

Dog trainer stands with scent-detection canine at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge
Dog trainer stands with scent-detection canine at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: Michelle Reynolds, USGS. Public domain.)
Koloa maoli
Koloa maoli or Hawaiian duck (Anas wyvilliana) at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, Hawai‘i.(Credit: Brenda Zaun, USFWS. Public domain.)

In the wetlands of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere, avian botulism is fatal and is caused by food poisoning from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (strain C). Avian botulism can spread from bird to bird quickly if carcasses remain in areas used by waterbirds. Hundreds of endangered waterbirds die every year from feeding in the infected wetlands. For years managers have worked to remove carcasses from wetland habitats but some carcasses go undetected because they are hidden under taro and other wetland plants. USGS researchers in Hawaii are evaluating the potential of using trained detector dogs as a tool to detect carcasses and allow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to respond more quickly to outbreaks of avian botulism and save the lives of the birds. Early detection of carcasses could help contain the spread of the waterbird toxin by allowing for rapid removal of dead birds and help pin point areas for water management.

The pilot project is a partnership between USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center and USFWS. Trained handlers and scent-detection dogs will be operating on the refuge from November 2017 through March 2018.  Researchers and managers will collect data to test the efficacy and efficiency of trained canines compared with humans conducting avian botulism surveillance at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.
















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