Otways Conservation Dogs – FAQs

Why is there a need for Conservation Dogs in the Otways?

The Tiger Quoll is the largest remaining carnivorous marsupial on the Australian mainland.  It is an endangered species and is declining across its entire range, even in the Otways which was once a key habitat for the Tiger Quoll.

One great way for detecting an elusive animal while causing minimal impact is through finding scats (poos).  Scats contain DNA fragments and these can be extracted and analysed to gain insights into the population through a better understanding of their genetics.

Until 2012 there was no confirmed evidence of Tiger Quoll presence in this region for nearly a decade. This year the Conservation Ecology Centre discovered scats of two different Tiger Quolls in different areas of the Otways.  Both these scats were discovered by chance and you can read more about each discovery here.  Dogs have highly sensitive noses and can be trained to find a target scent – through teaming up with man’s best friend we can greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our detection efforts.

Who are the Otways Conservation Dogs?

The project is led by the Conservation Ecology Centre, working in collaboration with Canidae Development* and the 2012 program has been proudly supported by the Mazda Foundation.
The team is comprised of canine volunteers from our community and their people – an incredible group who are working together, learning from one another and contributing to the conservation of the region.

How do you make sure the Quolls are not affected by the dogs?

We are working in very environmentally sensitive areas and are careful to minimise the impacts of our activities.  Otways Conservation Dogs are trained to find the evidence of Tiger Quolls not the animal itself; in this case we are searching for Tiger Quoll scat (poo). Our training is about detection and the dogs are trained to perform a passive alert behaviour of dropping (or sitting for the very little dogs in the team!) on locating a scat sample. There is absolutely no barking, scratching or digging and the dogs do not interact directly with the scent source.

Highly trained dogs and handlers are assessed according to strict criteria for operational readiness.  When dogs are operational they are deployed according to protocols under the direction and supervision of a Conservation Ecology Centre representative.

Otways Conservation Dogs are taught not to be distracted by other animals as part of their training – our dogs are not allowed to chase any animal at any time (this includes wildlife, domestic and pest species).  In fact, our dogs are so well trained around wildlife that the wild kangaroo mob often hangs around on a Sunday morning to watch our training sessions!

What sorts of dogs make good detection dogs?

Our team comprises a wide range of dog breeds and personalities – from gutsy Jack Russels and happy Bishon Frise to eager German Shepherds, conscientious Australian Shepherds, delightful Golden Retreivers, smiley Spaniels, focused Kelpies and bouncy Border Collies – to name a few!

Our skilled instructor from South West Victorian Dogs brings out the very best in each dog/handler team, working together with everyone to find the training approach which best suits each combination. We have seen incredible advancements in every single member of the team – both human and canine.

Our team members live both locally and quite far away, with some members rising at 4am to make our Sunday morning training sessions.

How can I get involved?

The project is currently running at capacity, however, if you are interested in getting involved we welcome you to get in touch via our contact form and we can discuss the opportunities for the future.  There are certainly ways to get involved with this project even if you don’t have a dog!

Learn more about Tiger Quolls.

Learn more about the Tiger Quoll Conservation Program.

Read up on the Conservation Ecology Centre’s 2012 discoveries of Tiger Quolls in the Otways – the Eastern Otways scat and the Cape Otway scat.

Learn more about the Otways Conservation Dogs Project.

*We began working on this project with South West Victorian Dogs but Luke Edward’s work has quickly outgrown the scope of the SWVD organisational structure. Canidae Development was launched in July 2013 and we are delighted to have been able to witness this evolution – it is an exciting time for dogs in conservation.


… 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.