If you go down to the woods today …

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… you might not see a Tiger Quoll.  However, that doesn’t mean that they are not there.

In an innovative move from the Conservation Ecology Centre, Cape Otway, this week saw the first training session for a team of canine volunteers – and their owners. Their mission? To help the Centre protect endangered Tiger Quolls from extinction.

Thanks to a grant from the Mazda Foundation, the Conservation Ecology Centre has teamed with South West Victorian Dogs to develop the program. And with 15 dogs of all breeds, colours and sizes already on board, Otways Conservation Dogs are off to a great start.


Otways Conservation Dogs first training session

First training session of the Otways Conservation Dogs - March 2012

Though once common throughout the Otway Ranges, Tiger Quolls – the largest marsupial predators surviving on the Australian mainland – have become increasingly rare across their entire range and are now in critical danger of extinction in this region.

Lizzie Corke, CEO of the Centre explained the importance of the program:

“Every species is connected to other species in an ecosystem, so by working to conserve Tiger Quolls we benefit all the indigenous species in a region.”

“While sightings of Tiger Quolls are frequently reported there has been no confirmed evidence of their existence for nearly a decade. Although they are shy and nocturnal, Tiger Quolls have one habit which may help us in finding them … they all poo in the same place. So, if we can find those places (communal latrine sites) we can collect their poo and carry out DNA analysis to identify each individual Tiger Quoll living in the Otways and gain important insights into their status and location.” 

However, the Otways is a big place to go looking for small piles of poo and finding them requires an innovative response. This is where the Otways Conservation Dogs come in.

Otways Conservation Dogs Instructor, Luke Edwards from South West Victorian Dogs, training Delta the detection dog in the forests of Cape Otway

Otways Conservation Dogs Instructor, Luke Edwards from South West Victorian Dogs, training Delta the detection dog in the forests of Cape Otway

On Sunday 18th March 2012 the first training session took place at the Conservation Ecology Centre in Cape Otway. Experienced search and rescue dog handler and instructor, Luke Edwards of South West Victorian Dogs, said:

“This is an exciting beginning. It is the first time a team of community volunteers is training to detect endangered species, so we are charting new territory!
Barking is often used as an alert in detection work, however, in this project we are training the dogs to use ‘passive alerts’, dropping and staying to signal a find. This will minimise the dogs’ impact on wildlife in the environmentally sensitive areas in which we will be working.” 

“We have dogs at all stages and they all worked really well today – they are still much loved family pets but will also be assets in wildlife conservation.”

Cheryl Nagel volunteers as an Otways Conservation Dogs member with her Australian Shepherd, Zeke

Cheryl Nagel volunteers with her dog, Australian Shepherd, Zeke.

Cheryl explained “I really enjoy spending time with my dog and being in the bush.  I am very concerned about plight of the Tiger Quoll and wildlife conservation in general, and getting involved in Otways Conservation Dogs is great way to make a useful contribution.”

Other projects in the Centre’s Tiger Quoll Conservation Program include remote camera surveys, feral predator control, small mammal conservation and habitat restoration and reconnection.

So keep an eye open for these feisty little creatures. And if you would like to help, then contact the Conservation Ecology Centre.


Update 2013: The OCD project continues in leaps and bounds – find out all the latest details on the Otways Conservation Dogs.