Dogs are being trained to “hunt” a species of European amphibians to the benefit of the newts.
An English springer spaniel named Freya is being trained to seek out the great crested newt, a species protected under rules that are overseen by Natural England, a public body in the U.K. sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.
In the past, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his frustration about the time-consuming process of counting newts, which he felt was negatively impacting the country’s progress and success.
This is because developers have to spend time searching for and relocating these amphibians before starting construction projects, as reported by the Guardian.
It’s difficult to find these small amphibians when they’re on land because they spend most of their time underground. This makes it hard for conservation policies and practices to work effectively in detecting them.
Nicola Jayne Glover, a Ph.D. student studying ecology at the University of Salford in the U.K., along with her colleagues, taught Freya to recognize the scent of live newts.
They accomplished this by directing the newts’ odor through open pipes of different lengths, helping Freya learn and distinguish their unique smell, the Guardian noted.
“Over 16 trial runs, Freya was able to detect great crested newts up to 2 meters away, with an 87% success rate,” reports the Guardian.
The great crested newt is a type of amphibian that is found exclusively in Europe. Female newts, which are bigger than males, can grow up to 7 inches long. This makes them the largest newts in Europe, known for their sturdy bodies.
The Natural England website states, “Great crested newts have seen dramatic declines in their populations over the last 60 years despite being protected under U.K. and EU law.”
“Our study provides a general baseline for the use of detection dogs in locating T. cristatus and similar amphibian species during their terrestrial phase,” Glover told the Guardian, which noted that she believes many dogs can be trained to identify newts.
In fact, she has already trained her other dog to do this task and claims both canines have already saved the lives of numerous newts.
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