Zorro the puppy training to rescue rare owl

WE have sheep dogs to guide dogs, but wait there is more, a specially trained puppy is now being trained to save one of Australia's most elusive bird species - the Tasmanian masked owl.

Masked owls are endangered in Tasmania. They're also nocturnal and their preferred forest habitat is extremely difficult to access. As a result, little is known about what they need to survive.

It is estimated that fewer than 1000 masked owls are living in Tasmanian forests, but a field survey this year found just 30 birds.

 

The Tasmanian masked owl.
The Tasmanian masked owl.

Scientists from the Australian National University's Difficult Bird Research Group is launching an ambitious new crowdfunding project to train a puppy to detect the scent of masked owls in the Tasmanian forest. The team is hoping to raise $60,000 by Sunday.

The border collie pup, Zorro, will be taught to sniff out owl pellets (regurgitated indigestible parts of prey, which look like cat fur-balls) on the forest floor.

Detection dogs are helpful in conservation programs because their sensitive noses detect targets more quickly and efficiently than people can.

Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who’s leading the campaign to save the masked owl, with specially trained puppy Zorro. Picture: Difficult Bird Research Group, ANU
Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who’s leading the campaign to save the masked owl, with specially trained puppy Zorro. Picture: Difficult Bird Research Group, ANU

Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who's leading the campaign, said by training Zorro to find owl pellets, it will dramatically improve the efficiency and accuracy of owl surveys.

"Masked owls are hard to find using ordinary survey techniques, and in remote, rugged Tasmanian forests, trudging around at night looking for owls is both unsafe and inefficient, so we had to get creative and find a new solution," Dr Stojanovic said.

"By training Zorro to find owl pellets, it will allow us undertake the first detailed research on what Tasmanian owls need to survive."

PhD student Adam Cisterne said deforestation is presenting a major threat to the birds.

"So there's an urgent need to update management practices with reliable information," Mr Cisterne said.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania, responsible for logging public forest, said in a statement it is committed to protection of threatened species and welcomes research efforts to improve understanding of ecology and habitat requirements for masked owls in Tasmanian forests.

To help go to www.pozible.com/project/operation-owl-dog



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