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Dogs sniff out threats to endangered birds

Dogs sniff out threats to endangered birds

Dogs sniff out threats to endangered birds

Wednesday 27 September 2023
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Conservation detection dog Nessie loves nothing more than sniffing among the dunes.

But she’s not just out getting her daily exercise.

Rather, the hours she spends working in the dunes is for one reason – to sniff out fox dens, with European foxes deemed to be among the biggest threats to native wildlife, including our Hooded Plovers.

With her owner and handler Mandy by her side, the pair have scoured Adelaide’s coastline this week, from North Haven to Kingston Park at the request of Green Adelaide.

“We do this during the fox denning season, which is between August and October,” said Mandy, while giving Nessie a quick break from work.

“Foxes only generally den when they’re having pups, so we want to catch them while they’re denning to break that cycle of mum showing the babies, here’s where you go to get dinner.”

Mandy and Nessie were also joined by their daughters while working Holdfast Bay’s coastline for three hours on Wednesday morning.

Mandy’s daughter Claire is the handler of 14-month-old Maisie, who successfully located a den during their sweep from Brighton to Kingston Park.

“She’s been trained since she was a young pup to do the fox dens, but this is her first season out here - she’s doing brilliant,’ Mandy said.

The English Springer spaniels are trained by Mandy who runs Conservation Detection Dogs SA, and they can detect dens in a matter of minutes – which humans might not be able to find.

“They generally get really excited and pull towards (the den),” said Mandy.

“We also watch their body language too and that will change when they smell the den, and whether it’s active or inactive.”

Both dogs wear hi-vis vests and collars that are equipped with GPS tracking devices, so when a den is found, the exact coordinates can be recorded and provided to Green Adelaide.

“Once a den is detected, we work with landowners to manage the threat and in turn, minimise the impact of foxes on these threatened birds,” Green Adelaide Coast and Seas Team Leader Tony Flaherty said.

When she’s working, Nessie can cover between 3km - 15km in one outing, which can last for several hours, depending on the terrain and weather.

Temporary signage is placed near the site where the dogs are working to alert other dogs owners of their activity.

“These dogs are working dogs - they don’t like to be interrupted so it’d be great if other dogs are on the lead,” Mandy said.

The Hooded Plover program is part of BirdLife Australia’s national beach-nesting bird program and is supported regionally by Green Adelaide, Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu, local councils and volunteers.

Beach goers are reminded to have their dogs on a lead within 100 metres of the signposted Hooded Plover breeding site which is currently at the Minda Dunes.

Three Hooded Plover chicks hatched at the end of August with two chicks now remaining.

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