Utilising detector dogs to protect the last remaining wild populations of Numbats.
Numbats surely are gorgeous creatures – about 40 centimetres long, including the bushy tail, less than one kilo in weight, a striped pelt, a very fine, pointed muzzle and a sticky tongue that vacuums up perhaps 20,000 termites a day.
And, gorgeous or not, like so many natural species in Australia, Numbats are at risk of extinction and again, it’s feral cats that pose the existential threat.
FAME will support a program centred on protecting habitats in WA where Numbats roam in unfenced reserves. Importantly, there may be some significant side benefits to the program as the Numbats’ habitat is also home to other threatened fauna including Woylies, Chuditch, Western Ring-tailed Possums and Mallee Fowl.
This Program aligns perfectly with FAME’s priorities because it brings partly under our umbrella, not only the Numbat population in areas of WA, but also several other, threatened, species. A single program with a potential outcome that benefits five priority species in the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Strategy is a wonderful involvement for our organisation.
What will man’s best friend do? The Project has several parts including:
- Identifying suitable dogs;
- training those dogs to detect feral cats specifically in the Numbats’ habitat;
- objectively measuring the effectiveness of the trained dogs in detecting feral cats; and
- refining the project as it proceeds so as to optimise the dogs’ effectiveness.
The dogs are not there to tackle feral cats directly; indeed, they will be trained not to do so. Their task will be solely to ensure the handler is aware that a feral cat is nearby.
So, if the detector dog Program works, what outcomes should we expect?
There are a quite a few potential outcomes including a reduced number of feral cats in the Numbats’ habitat; greater understanding of the feral cat population in those areas, an acceptance of the value of detector dogs in this critically important endeavour and, of course, Numbats having a better chance of survival.
The Program will be overseen by WA Department of Parks and Wildlife Research Scientist, Dr Tony Friend. The overarching goal is simple enough: reduce the pressure on Numbats posed by feral cats. Whether this is achieved will be assessed through continual monitoring undertaken by Parks and Wildlife that includes tracking Numbats with radio collars and remote cameras’ surveillance, among other things.
Entities involved or consulted as part of this Program include:
- Numbat Recovery Team
- The WA Department of Parks and Wildlife
- Numbat Task Force
- Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species Ltd
At the very least, the Program will help increase awareness among the general population of the plight of the Numbat and the need never to cease looking for ways to protect threatened species in their own habitats.