Goose is only four months old, but he already has his career lined up. This would be unusual if Goose were human, but Goose is a dog, one of the over 500 dogs that Cheetah Conservation Fund has placed with farmers since 1994.
Dogs are an unexpected, but vital tool in the conservation field, utilized by many different organizations worldwide. Both the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) use them to mitigate the effects of conflict between cheetahs and local people by placing puppies with farmers who train them to be guard dogs. Dogs like Goose protect livestock from predators with success rates as high as 80 to 90%. With their livelihoods no longer threatened, the farmers are far less likely to make retaliatory killings against cheetahs, brokering a peace between man and nature. Both cheetah conservation groups also provide medical care and continued mentoring on how best to work with these dogs, turning man’s best friend into conservation’s best friend as well. Soon Goose will join his new family on their farm, and take his place amongst the ranks of proud puppies that have guarded livestock so well in the past.
Goose isn’t the only dog working for the conservation cause, and conservation dogs don’t just guard livestock. Orbee, a border collie is a conservation sniffer dog, but his life had a rocky start. By all accounts, Orbee was a failure. A border collie with zero interest in herding sheep made him completely unsuited to ranch life. When he was placed in a local shelter for being unfit for his owners, things looked grim- he was a high energy, noisy dog, an immediate turn off for many potential adopters. That’s when Working Dogs for Conservation stepped in, fulfilling their mission of taking unadoptable dogs and putting them to work protecting other species as “conservation detection dogs”. These dogs track animals, poachers, and even disease vectors through scent. This means that Orbee can use his incredible sense of smell to detect the presence of specific species, greatly increasing ease in tracking and identifying the number of a given population of animals. Now Orbee recognizes the scent of fourteen different animals, from gorillas to wolverines, and has worked worldwide, from Alaska to Africa. As a conservation detection dog, Orbee can sniff the scat of any animal up to 1600 feet away, through difficult terrain. He can even sniff out endangered or invasive insects and fish, an invaluable ability for detecting those hard to find species.
When the Elephant Crisis Fund needed an innovative way to stop poachers, dogs were the way to go. They followed the same model used to train Orbee, employing conservation sniffer dogs. Given expert training, a sniffer dog’s extra sensitive nose can pick up scents humans can’t even imagine, like the smell of smuggled ivory, for example. They can also pick up scents associated with guns, such as gunpowder helping authorities confiscate and bring weapons out of circulation. Anti-poaching dogs have lead to hundreds of searches and seizures of ivory. Even just watching a sniffer dog can serve as a deterrent- bystanders see how easily the dog can track down hidden caches of ivory, and realize how risky the activity truly is.
Goose and his canine companions may be an unconventional part of the conservation landscape, but they’re an important one. Every day they’re hard at work to make life better for both humans and animals, and maintaining their canine smiles the whole time.