Specially trained dogs bring sniff out rare turtles to help conservationists

Some dogs bring toys to their owners while others bring whatever they find in the yard.

John Rucker’s dogs bring him turtles.

“They spontaneously started bringing me eastern box turtles,” Rucker told WQAD. “[The dogs] absolutely know what I’m after. They know I’m after turtles, and they’re interested in any and all turtles.”

But there’s a very good reason Rucker’s four Boykin Spaniels bring him turtles. They’re helping researchers count the reptiles so they can better maintain the land where they live.

Rucker, who is a retired schoolteacher, trained his dogs after they started bringing him the reptiles on their own. Now, the team works with researchers across numerous locations to document the creatures and figure out a way to preserve their habitat.

Currently, they’re working with conservationists to find ornate box turtles at a 40-acre preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Iowa.

“You will notice that as soon as they strike a scent trail their tails will start wagging furiously, and then their whole demeanor becomes extremely excitable,” Rucker told NPR.

Once a dog discovers a turtle they carefully pick it up and bring it back to Rucker. The turtle is documented, then returned to the wild. Occasionally some will be held onto for further evaluation.

“We try to manage our properties with the most vulnerable species in mind, and these turtles are the most vulnerable species,” Jason Taylor, a property stewardship specialist with the Bur Oak Land Trust, said.

Now that they are aware of where the turtles live they will take that into consideration when they consider mowing or initiating a controlled fire.

So far the dogs have been able to sniff out thousands of turtles, effectively helping conservationists learn more about the vulnerable reptiles.

Who would have thought that dogs could help preserve a vulnerable turtle’s habitat?

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