Russian dog flies to Cambodia to help track tigers

POINTER PLAN: Maggie is part of the initiative ‘Tigers Forever,’ a project that was launched in 2006 in an attempt to combat Asia’s dwindling tiger population


Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 5

A dog trained to sniff out tiger droppings has been flown in from Russia to help conservationists determine if the big cats still roam one of Cambodia’s largest nature reserves.

Starting next week, Maggie the German wire-haired pointer will begin scouring the undergrowth and sniffing for tiger scent on trees at the 3,000km² Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in northeast Cambodia.

The unorthodox move to employ a dog trained to search for signs of tigers comes after camera traps and field surveys failed to find the big cats last year. The last sign of a tiger was in 2007, when a paw print was spotted in the park.

“We think this is the best method when we have a large area and not that many tigers,” said Hannah O’Kelly, a wildlife monitoring adviser for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which along with the wild cat conservation group Panthera is spending about US$30,000 to bring Maggie and a second dog from Russia to Seima later this year.

“They are so much more efficient than people at finding cats because they have smelling capabilities that are a hundred million times better than ours,” she said.

The hiring of the two dogs is part of a US$10 million, 10-year initiative by WCS and Panthera, also based in New York, called “Tigers Forever.” It aims to increase the numbers of tigers by 50 percent in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Russian Far East and Thailand through a range of measures that include better monitoring, assessments of threats and efforts to minimize the dangers facing the big cats.

The campaign was launched in 2006 to combat a dwindling tiger population in Asia. Across the continent, the number of tigers has plummeted to as few as 5,000 from a high of 100,000 a century ago because of poaching, habitat loss and other threats. It is unclear how many tigers remain in Cambodia.

Men Soriyun, a project manager for the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, said he felt that dogs offered the best hope of finding the tigers and that the method could be used by other national reserves.

“The best way to find tigers in the jungle is to use dogs because they can find tigers by their smell,” Men Soriyun said.

Cambodia is the first country in Asia to employ the dogs to search for tigers, a method pioneered in Russia’s Far East region, which has hundreds of tigers spread across several thousand kilometers.

Since then, dogs have been used to search for jaguars in South America and leopards in Africa.