Accuracy and efficiency of detection dogs: a powerful new tool for koala conservation and management
Romane H. Cristescu1, Emily Foley2, Anna Markula3, Gary Jackson4, Darryl Jones2 & Céline Frère1
1GeneCology Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC, Queensland, Australia 4558
2Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, Australia 4111
3Logan City Council, 150 Wembley Road, Logan Central, Queensland, Australia 4114
4Gary Jackson Dog Trainer, 190 McPhail Road, Narangba, Queensland,Australia 4504.
Accurate data on presence/absence and spatial distribution for fauna species is key to their conservation. Collecting such data, however, can be time consuming, laborious and costly, in particular for fauna species characterised by low densities, large home ranges, cryptic or elusive behaviour. For such species, including koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), indicators of species presence can be a useful short cut: faecal pellets (scats), for instance, are widely used. Scat surveys are not without their difficulties and often contain a high false negative rate. We used experimental and field-based trials to investigate the accuracy and efficiency of the first dog specifically trained for koala scats. The detection dog consistently out-performed human-only teams. Off-leash, the dog detection rate was 100%. The dog was also 19 times more efficient than current scat survey methods and 153% more accurate (the dog found koala scats where the human-only team did not). This clearly demonstrates that the use of detection dogs decreases false negatives and survey time, thus allowing for a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of data collection. Given these unequivocal results, we argue that to improve koala conservation, detection dog surveys for koala scats could in the future replace human-only teams.