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With a notable career as a detective, Pepin has traveled around the world in search of crime. Born in Holland and educated in Montana, he was one of the first to sniff out wire wildlife snares and single out an invasive fish species in a moving stream. He was an indispensable colleague to Meg Parker, his human, and traveled through Africa and Myanmar as an ambassador for his beloved profession. At 12 years old, with an array of achievements behind him, Pepin retired to Meg’s couch in Missoula, Montana.
This good boy is but one of over a hundred canines affiliated with Working Dogs for Conversation (WD4C). Founded in the 1990s, the organization recruits, trains and deploys dogs on wildlife protection projects around the world. From sleuthing out bushmeat and illegal lumber in Zambia and Tanzania to catching stowaway rats arriving in the Falkland Islands, WD4C dogs and their handlers relay invaluable information to scientists and other stakeholders fighting to conserve wildlife and wild places.
Though the WD4C’s innovative work is relatively new, the partnership between dog and human dates back an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 years. Humans and dogs have evolved together, with the latter’s incredible olfactory systems making them incredible partners in everything from hunting for sustenance to search and rescue. “We’ll never know what it’s like to be in a dog’s brain,” says Meg Parker, WD4C co-founder and Pepin’s housemate, “but we can see how they work in the environment when they’re smelling something 200 meters away.” Something, she adds, a person couldn’t smell up close. This powerful sensor allows WD4C dogs to track down a single invasive species amongst a moving stream of many fish, or know where an invasive plant exists before it ever pushes through the ground. The tasks are specific, and the impact is vast. In the Serengeti, a team of WD4C dogs and handlers followed poachers through over 14 kilometers of bush before recovering 950 pounds of bush meat.
Despite the species’ universally strong sense of smell, finding suitable candidates for this rigorous conservation work is no easy task. WD4C looks for nerve strength, or ability to focus on a task without being bothered by climate, people or other animals, as well as a dog’s ability desire to communicate with a handler. For each one successful recruit, WD4C looks at 1,000 to 2,000 dogs from rescue situations. Many dogs are from shelters, while others, like Tule, formerly of U.S. Customers and Border Protection, are changing careers.
There are currently over 30 WD4C dogs active on projects around the globe. Learn more about them and their human colleagues at https://wd4c.org/.
behind the scenes
Missoula, MTFull Map
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