USC academics lead establishment of conservation dog network

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Dr Celine Frere and Dr Romane Cristescu with detection dog ‘Baxter’

Two USC academics have been instrumental in establishing an Australian-first network of organisations that use dogs for environmental work.

Dr Celine Frere and Dr Romane Cristescu, who run USC’s Detection Dogs for Conservation program and are well known for their koala detection work, are celebrating the establishment this week of the Australian Conservation Dog Network.

This network comprises representatives from universities, non-profit organisations, governments, zoos, research institutions and businesses working with conservation dogs, and is dedicated to promoting the innovative use of dogs for environmental work.  

“We have been talking about establishing such a collaboration with the dedicated people working with detection dogs around Australia for the past two years,” she said.

“I am delighted that we have finally made it a reality by combining the expertise from five universities, government representatives, practitioners, welfare organisations and zoos across Australia.

“We are also keen to hear from others interested in becoming involved. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we have made a great start.”

Dr Cristescu said a dog’s sense of smell was up to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, making canines suitable to be trained and deployed to detect and protect wildlife, including koalas and quolls, and sometimes even locate weeds or rare plants.

Josey Sharrad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which sponsored the inaugural workshop, said her organisation strongly supported this important and much-needed initiative.

“Conservation dogs are an integral part of protecting the future of Australia’s unique wildlife and natural environment,” she said.

Acting Threatened Species Commissioner Sebastian Lang also supported the initiative, describing it as another example of partnerships working for threatened species recovery.

“Conservation dogs are an exciting and innovative approach to help us protect Australia’s remarkable plants and animals,” he said.

“They are another ‘tool in the toolkit’ for recovery, and I look forward to this new network sharing its expertise, training more conservation dogs and ultimately saving more species. The more trained and expertly handled conservation dogs working out in the field, the more wins for the environment.”

Present at the Australian Conservation Dog Network inaugural workshop were: USC, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Threatened Species Commissioner Office, Monash University, La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland, Biosecurity Queensland, Anthrozoology Research Group’s Dog Lab, Zoos Victoria, Dogs 4 Conservation, USC’s Detection Dogs for Conservation, Anthrozoology Research Group, Australian Ecosystems Foundation, Elmoby Ecology, Animal Eco-Warriors, Canidae Development, Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre and Local Environmental Solutions.

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