Wind turbines are brilliant for the environment as they’re a source of renewable energy. But there are a few downsides, too – turbines can cause havoc with local wildlife, such as birds and bats. Thankfully, though, there’s a solution: detection dogs.
The Rogue Detection Team is a conservation dog programme based in the United States that operates worldwide. The team adopts shelter dogs that don’t make ideal pets due to their extreme and insatiable desire to play fetch. “We pair their drive to play with locating data on a myriad of odors in the wild, be this endangered wildlife, invasive plants, toxins in the environment, diseases, and much, much more,” explains Jennifer Hartman, from the Rogue Detection Dog team.
“The sky’s the limit with detection dogs, and we’re honored to work alongside our canine colleagues for conservation science.”
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So, how are they trained?
The dogs are motivated to play fetch, says Jennifer, so introducing them to odours is quite straightforward. “When we first adopt new canine talent, we work with each dog’s innate curiosity to sniff by placing a target odour out for them to smell,” she says.
“As soon as their nose smells the target, typically a scat (or faeces) of a rare species we’ll be surveying for, we toss the ball. We play their favourite game of tug, fetch or whatever their hearts desire and celebrate their find. After that, we slowly build up the complexity of their searches, incorporate alerts (such as sitting at the target), and voila, a conservation detection dog in the making!
“We’re constantly learning from our dogs and are continually adapting our methods to best suit each dog, each species, and each project.”
How long does it take?
The team can imprint them on a new species or odour in a manner of minutes, explains Jennifer. “They’re very smart and eager to play fetch,” she says. “Teaching them how to locate the target in the wild is what takes more time.
“Even though our dogs may recognise the odour very quickly, learning how to search for it in the wild is different for each new species we’re tasked with locating. That’s where the skill of our bounders comes into play. They are constantly assessing the wind, the temperature, the terrain, their dog’s health, and stamina and factoring that into the specific ecology of the species or odor we’re locating in the wild. It’s challenging work and not for the faint-hearted.”
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How are the dogs making wind turbines safer?
Detection dogs deployed at wind facilities assist researchers in determining whether avian wildlife is being affected. If they are, the data their noses detect helps answer questions such as, what techniques could be implemented to mitigate wildlife losses? “To determine this, data is needed, and our dogs are great at sniffing for data,” says Jennifer.
“Our dogs sniff for mortalities of birds and bats across various seasons and under different parameters and in this way, researchers can learn whether mitigation efforts are working. Maybe the turbines operate during a certain season or time of day. Maybe there are lights that can be installed to broadcast to wildlife that the blades are turning. There are many different experiments that can be implemented across the various sites we work at.
“Detection dogs are helping to make wind turbines safer by informing scientists where and when there are fewer mortalities.”
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The more we learn about how to make wind energy safer for wildlife – while also producing the energy that fuels our world – the better we’re able to move towards a more sustainable future.
“As for our dogs,” adds Jennifer, “the more projects our shelter-dogs-turned-super-dogs are deployed on, the more canine co-woofers we can adopt and that’s also a world we want to live in, too.”
Find out more about the Rogue Detection Dogs on its website, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.