Every turtle that lives in the wild matters, and three-year-old pup Newt is doing everything in his power to assist them. In order for his human teammates to keep track of the local populations, Newt, a valuable part of a sizable conservation team in Rhode Island, uses his keen sense of smell to identify all different kinds of turtles, both aquatic and land-based.
As predators, prey, and ecosystem engineers, turtles have important roles in nature, according to Julia Sirois, a conservation biology student at St. Lawrence University (SLU), who spoke with The Dodo. "We must maintain the population's health,"Biologists in Rhode Island must first observe the turtles in person to ensure that the local population is flourishing. However, because it can be challenging to locate turtles in the field with the naked eye, the conservation biology department at SLU decided to expand its squad with a dog. Newt was brought up expressly to be a detection dog for conservation.
Newt began his training when he was still a young puppy. Hannah Duffy, an undergraduate student at SLU, Dr. Kris Hoffman, and a few other experienced trainers helped Newt quickly learn how to locate particular scents. Sirois remarked, "His training began with being rewarded when he scented a tin containing birch. The game then evolved into finding concealed tins after picking out the scented tin from among empty tins.
One day, a football field was treated with a single drop of birch oil by Newt's trainers. In less than a minute, Newt discovered the oil drop, and his team decided it was time to expose him to the aroma of a spadefoot toad. Soon after, Newt began working on his first formal task: finding spadefoot toads for the Massachusetts Audubon.Sirois, Newt's second student handler, chose to teach him how to discover uncommon turtles because Newt did so well on his spadefoot toad assignment. In parallel, according to Sirois, "biologists in Rhode Island were seeking to learn where threatened turtle species lived within the state."
As a result, Newt and his handler joined the state-wide conservation initiative and started looking for turtles that were in danger of extinction. According to Sirois, "Newt helped locate new places with turtle species that are more in need of conservation or vulnerable." Dr. Hoffman predicted that we would find a turtle on average once every three days, but we really found one every day.
There are a few essential thing Newt does to protect himself and the turtles when it comes to informing his handlers about a new discovery. Sirois commented, "When Newt discovers a turtle, he lays down facing it. The turtle is not picked up by him. Sirois orders Newt to move his nose closer to the turtle if she can't first see it he is alerting to.Once the turtle has been located, another member of the conservation team records his location, observes how he acts, and snaps photos of the distinctive pattern under his shell so they can identify the turtle once more during future searches.
Sirois gives Newt his most desired toy once he successfully recognizes a turtle. Tennis balls are his favorite things in the world, according to Sirois. Even as a puppy, "he taught himself to throw the ball to others so that they would throw it quicker."Sirois gives Newt the command "search" to keep exploring new regions after he has been racing abou contentedly with his ball for a while.
When Newt isn't out in the field conducting searches, he's generally at home playing with Dr. Hoffman or accompanying her to work. His handler noted that tracking dogs are different from domestic pets though.According to Sirois, "He is high-energy, easily bored, over-excited, a smart problem-solver, and has no respect for silence and downtime." He acts differently from the typical pet Labrador retriever, more like a police dog.
The future growth of SLU's conservation program, which is entirely dependent on funding, includes both more dogs and students. The Recovering America's Wildlife Act (RAWA), according to Sirois, "would revolutionize the game." "We could pay for an entire Newt turtle squad!"
The planet will continue to be changed one turtle at a time by Newt and his dedicated staff while they continue to survey the situation.