Big Cat Rescue Helps Save Snow Leopards

Avatar BCR | December 8, 2007 1 View 0 Likes 0 Ratings

Working Dog News
December 2007 Volume 1 Issue 2

As 2007 comes quickly to a close, we reflect on the successes the year has brought us, and look forward to the new year, which promises new challenges and opportunities.

Dogs Afoot Let it Snow, Let it Snow...Leopard, that is

We have a brand new freezer packed to the rim with snow leopard scats, thanks to a collaborative effort with Dr. Tom McCarthy of the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT). Listed as endangered in 1972, the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) ranges over 12 countries in central Asia, including Mongolia, China, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. Like many endangered species, the snow leopard is imperiled due to habitat loss, poaching, and loss of prey. The entire population is thought to consist of 3,500 to 7,000 animals in the wild, but researchers need to hone in on an accurate population count to be able to monitor population and range changes. When Dr. McCarthy contacted WDCF to ask if dogs could lend their expertise to this endeavor, WDCF recognized this as the perfect opportunity to apply funds donated to WDCF by The Charles Engelhard Foundation for just such an occasion.

The goal is for the dogs to confirm that scats collected by human searchers are indeed from snow leopards, and then to go one step further and identify which individual animal produced the scats. Knowing how much area was covered to find the scats, how many scats were collected, and which animals produced each scat will provide detailed population information for Dr. McCarthy and his colleagues. Recently, Linda Kerley and Galina Salkina published their research on the use scent-matching dogs to identify individual tigers from scats (see Detection Directions, this issue).

We hope to build upon their research by exploring the effectiveness of dogs discriminating among snow leopard scats, and determine details which may be specific to snow leopards such as cost-effectiveness, proper study design, misclassification rates, and appropriate selection and maintenance of scent-matching dogs. The task requires heaps of scat samples positively identified from individual snow leopards. To gather this odd bounty, ISLT enlisted the help of captive facilities and coordinated the collection and shipment of hundreds of scat samples. Big Cat Rescue proved to be so enthusiastic about the task that they posted an entertaining and informative video about it on You Tube.

Read more about this work on ISLT’s website.

Detection Directions Tiger Matching in Russia
In 2004, we had the opportunity to visit Dr. Linda Kerley in a tiny village in the Russian far east where she and her Russian colleagues use dogs to help in their studies of Amur tigers and leopards. Members of the Amur tiger population are so genetically similar that often the lab can't make distinctions between individual tigers- but the dogs can! See the project's Journal of Wildlife Management article for all the details. Dr. Kerley summarizes her work here for our readers and shares pictures that you won't find in the journal. Take a look!

Dogs Afield Dogs on the Rise in the Andes

In April of this year, WDCF travelled to Salta, Argentina to work with the Transfrontier Andean Cat Conservation Project. We were asked to train and field dog-handler teams for work in the high Andes on the most endangered felid in the Americas. The Andean cat, (Leopardus jacobitu) is a species so little known that there are only a handful of photographs and ten or so confirmed sightings in the last 25 years. We worked remotely with the project Principal Investigator, Dr. Claudio Sillero, of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, University. He hired local trainers and handlers and they were able to pre-select candidate dogs and begin some training before we arrived. Of the candidate dogs selected, only one made it through training to conduct field work. Bruno is a terrier mix who has nice toy drive, sufficient to get him through the training in high-elevation, cactus-strewn, tear-your-pads-off rock and cliff areas. He has found scats and cat latrines, where Andean and the far more common, sympatric Pampas cats share latrines. His job will be to not only find these latrines, but then to discriminate between all the scats (possibly including fox and puma) and identify only the Andean cat scats- indistinguishable to his human partners. The handler, Erika Guikens, and local project manager, Dr. Pablo Perovic, continue the training and work with Bruno in northern Argentina, where they are looking for scats at the base of cliff bands above 13,000 feet. This is highly demanding work for dogs and the field crews and we continue to support this project through remote training and possibly in the future, more dogs and on-site training.

Nose Needs Hey Buddy, Need a Ride?


WDCF is a 501(c)(3) organization, and as such, any donation you give is tax-deductible. The simplest way to make a difference for conservation dogs and wildlife is by contributing a gift online, which you can do here. Donations of all sizes make a difference: $90 feeds one dog for a month, $185 equips one team with the bright orange dog vest and safety gear that must be carried in the field, and $1000 covers routine vet care for a year for one dog.

...Finally, we're thankful for newly acquired knowledge that we hope to never use. Footloose Montana and John Caratti scheduled a special training session for a WDCF field crew on how to release a dog that is inadvertently caught in a fur trapper's trap. The know-how and equipment are now on our "don't leave home without it" list. Thanks for the extra effort to train our crew!



For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


Sign our petition to protect tigers here:



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