Megan Parker, Executive Director and co-founder of Working Dogs for Conservation, talks about using detection dogs for wildlife conservation. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how she trains dogs to detect wildlife samples, including plants, animals, seeds and scat. The dogs are often able to uncover what wildlife biologists can’t easily see or find, and they do so more efficiently and in a non-intrusive way—that is, without the baiting, luring, trapping, handling or radio-collaring the animals. The dogs at Working Dogs for Conservation have sniffed out dwindling populations of cheetahs in Kenya, helped with population surveys of endangered snow leopards in eastern Russia and uncovered invasive cannibal snails in Hawaii.
Megan Parker grew up in Montana, where she began training dogs when she was just 10 years old. She received her B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont and her M.S. from Boise State University in raptor ecology, studying falcons in Guatemala. She has worked as a biologist in many states in the U.S., Canada, Central America, Asia and Africa. Her Ph.D. at the University of Montana focused on researching scent marking behavior and chemistry for conservation of African wild dogs in northern Botswana. Beginning in 1996, Megan started exploring the wider potential for dogs in non-intrusive wildlife research. Her idea of training dogs to find scat of specific species in the wild coincided with the increasing capacity of biologists in the mid-1990s to extract viable DNA samples from tissue particles contained in animal scat. She is particularly interested in the international application of working dogs in conservation to help developing countries and under funded projects acquire excellent samples and reduce costs. This episode of “The WildLife” originally aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on January 3, 2011 and was reposted on September 26, 2011.