Uncommon scents— it’s all in the poop

By: 
CHRIS COWBROUGH
S-E Editor/Publisher

There is nothing scatological about an important and innovative program run through the University of Washington that trains high energy, rescued shelter dogs to locate wildlife scat over large areas around the globe.

Yes, this is poop detection that makes perfect scents. It’s feces for science and all in the poop.

These scat detection canines are the focal point of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, a leader in DNA and hormone analysis since 1997. Headed by Dr. Samuel Wasser, the center is at the forefront of developing innovative methods that improve the field of wildlife monitoring in a low-impact, non-invasive fashion.

Around world

By utilizing innovative laboratory technology and these “Conservation Canines” detection dogs, the center is assisting agencies in conducting more effective wildlife monitoring around the world.

Since spring of 2015, the Center for Conservation Biology has conducted seasonal wildlife research using these well-trained detection dogs to collect scat samples from carnivores in Northeast Washington.

The poop is analyzed in Dr. Wasser’s UW laboratory. The analyses glean information about the diet, genes and overall health of animals like resident cougar, wolf, lynx, bobcat and coyote populations.

“By understanding the distribution, health and behavior of these carnivores, we hope to assist in wildlife management and reduce human-wildlife conflicts in Washington state and beyond,” Dr. Wasser said.

Members of these Conservation Canine teams and their wildlife detective/"Pooper-Scooper” handlers, working in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, have been in the region conducting research and working outreach with area school districts.

The Conservation Canine program has launched a unique outreach educational program that shares some of their research—and these talented dogs—with students around the state.

The University of Washington, in collaboration with the Upper Columbia Children’s Forest Program, the CNF and Stevens County Conservation District, brought this unique science to schools and libraries around the region.

SCaT

Called SCaT (Science, Canines and Technology), the outreach delivered classroom presentations to grades K-12 around Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties this spring. The visits included presentations by a university researcher and a field demonstration by one of the scat detection dogs.

Explained Julianne Ubigau, a researcher and educator with the Center For Conservation Biology at the UW: “The outreach program provides an opportunity to share some interesting research and introduce these talented detection dogs to youngsters around the state.”

She added that the center’s genetics laboratory in Seattle “is a leader of DNA and hormone technology, while the canine program is the pioneer of non-invasive wildlife research techniques used all over the world.”

Use of dogs to locate wildlife scat over large areas was pioneered by Dr. Wasser in 1997. Since that time, the Center for Conservation Biology and Conservation Canines program has been non-invasively monitoring a diverse list of threatened and endangered species around the world. Among them: Orcas, tigers, spotted owls, fishers, bears, caribou, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, Pacific pocket mice, et al.

As seen in the June 8 edition of the Statesman-Examiner.

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