Dogs are man’s best friend, but they have proven time and time again that their value to us is more than just companionship. Now, a specific breed of dog, the Boykin spaniel, is helping conservationists protect ornate box turtles in Illinois.
The dogs have been trained specifically to sniff out the turtles to speed up the process of locating them for data collection. Boykin spaniels are able to find 2.5 turtles per search hour, which is significantly more than the one turtle biologist finds every four to five hours.
Dr. Matt Allender, Chicago Zoological Society clinical veterinarian and director of the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Laboratory says that “the dogs have been immensely beneficial in finding the turtles at a much faster rate than we can. They are a tremendous tool for conservation.”
With the help of these specially trained dogs, researchers can analyze how the box turtles are responding to human encroachment. Unfortunately, both species of box turtles in Illinois have experienced habitat destruction and drastic declines in population, but as researchers are able to study more turtles, they are also able to pinpoint exactly what is threatening their health.
The conservation of turtles extends to other species, including humans. Keeping track of the condition of the turtle population can inform us on how to protect them and will prepare us should there be transferrable diseases or viruses detected in the species.