Ecological Scent Detection Dogs: On the Lookout for Western Pond Turtle Nests!

MVSD’s Moorhen Marsh, a 21-acre freshwater constructed wetland, is home to approximately 150 western pond turtles (WPT), including nesting turtles. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife considers the western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) as a Species of Special Concern and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a proposal to list it as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

MVSD has been studying WPT since 2009 to better understand the population ecology of the species and how best to protect and manage for its success at Moorhen Marsh.

In June, we had an unusual guest contributing to our research efforts–“George”–an ecological-scent detection dog who is part of the Harvey Dog program of Los Gatos-based, H. T. Harvey & Associates, Ecological Consultants. Harvey Dogs are trained to detect specific species and give their handlers, who are experienced ecologists, a cue when the species is present. Using their superb noses, dogs can detect a target species from smelling the live animal or particulates such as scat, remains, nests, or feathers in an area of up to 30 acres in a day.

George and his trainer, Lauralea Oliver, visited Moorhen Marsh to conduct the final stages of his training in detection of WPT nests. As he investigated the marsh, he practiced finding WPT nests, without disturbing the sensitive habitat. By supporting the development of more efficient and effective methods to detect the hard-to-find WPT nests, MVSD aims to more accurately and quickly identify where to install protective barriers around nests to prevent predation, monitor nests for hatching success, and continue to contribute to research on the reproductive habits of this declining turtle species.