New Zealand Dogs Help Protect Endangered Species

 |  Jan 31st 2007  |   1 Contribution


Great story on new ways for dogs to contribute to society! If any Dogsters know more about this story, please bark in!

Thanks to The Gisborne Herald for this good news!

Dogs a key part of managing wildlife
by Kiri Gillespie

A Gisborne man is proving New Zealands wildlife has not gone to the dogs, as he helps showcase the countrys searching skills to the world.


Steve Sawyer and his two dogs have made a weighty contribution towards restoring the some of the New Zealands dwindling native wildlife. Now, environmentalists from overseas are flying over here to see how it is done.

A recent national predator dog training workshop in Mount Maungatautari a wildlife haven in Hamilton hosted groups and visitors from America and Australia. Most had not heard of using dogs to search for native wildlife before. It is a method many sceptics first found laughable trusting carnivorous animals with the lives of endangered species.

However, Mr Sawyer said the people who had never worked with dogs before soon changed their tune after going on a search and seeing what they do.

"I have had an Australian guy, a seabird scientist, come over to spend a week with me to see how we use the dogs in the bush. He did not think dogs were the way to go regarding searching for native wildlife. But after a week he thought it was the only option . . . he was blown away."

New Zealand wildlife searching dogs have established themselves "streaks ahead of anyone else", said Mr Sawyer.

"We are certainly way ahead of other countries even our Customs dogs are really well respected overseas," he said.

Mr Sawyer and his two border-collies, Tai and Bow, make up one of four seabird searching teams in New Zealand. About 35 man and dog teams search for kiwi.

It is a field growing in demand for highly- specialised skills.

There are already projects set up to help restore the population of native wildlife in Japan, Australia and America.

Mr Sawyers bird-searching skills are also required outside New Zealand. He has been enlisted to help search for penguin nests in Australia and help locate the nests of petrel birds around Fiji.

"The petrels are one of the worlds rarest sea birds like the taiko and they nest in very dense jungle, so we use dogs," he said.

The process of locating elusive seabird nests is no easy feat.

Although seabirds live out on the ocean, they breed in underground burrows usually five kilometres inland on various islands.

He is regularly contracted to search for native birds all over New Zealand, including a recent 10-day trip to the Chatham Islands to search for one of the worlds rarest birds, the taiko.

The taiko is also known as the Chatham Island muttonbird, only about 120-150 remain in the world.

"They are really hard to find, they nest under metres of scrub in burrows about two and a half metres deep. That is why we use the dogs to pick up on their scent," he said.

Tai and Bow have been trained to pick up on the scents of native birds and either sit or point when they pick it up. They are the tools of Mr Sawyers trade.

"Dogs are a real key part to managing wildlife in New Zealand," he said.

Mr Sawyer has been in this line of work for about eight years through his business Ecoworks.

So far on his taiko hunts, which he has done over four years, he has discovered 12 new taiko burrows.

"It has been really good . . . they are about as rare as hens teeth," he said.

Steve has spent more than 18 years managing threatened species through the New Zealand Wildlife Service, the Department of Conservation and now recovery projects through Ecoworks.

However, his plans for the near future include hanging out with his "young family" and keeping an eye on the kiwis at the Motu enclosure he helps run.

The Motu Kiwi Recovery Project is an initiative of the Whinray Eco Charitable Trust, of which Mr Sawyer is chairman.

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