Earth Notes: Shelter Dogs and Salamanders

Jun 11, 2014

An unusual team of four-legged researchers is hard at work in the Jémez Mountains of New Mexico. They love to run, chase balls — and sniff out a rare salamander found nowhere else.

Rescue dogs search for salamanders in the Jémez Mountains of New Mexico.

Specially trained rescue dogs nicknamed Conservation Canines are helping government and nonprofit agencies sniff out Jémez Mountains salamanders. They’re an endangered species whose habitat is at increasing risk in the face of climate change and more frequent forest fires.

Experts believe the notoriously hard-to-find animals are severely threatened as north-central New Mexico grows hotter and drier. An effort spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy is aimed at revealing new details about the critters’ lives in the hope that more information will help scientists develop a long-term survival strategy.

This is where the canines come in. A Labrador retriever named Sampson and a border collie called Frehley were trained using salamander scent samples to track down the elusive species in the Jémez backcountry.

Without harming such delicate amphibians, the dogs lead scientists to where they live. This, in turn, allows forest and wildlife habitat restoration programs to move ahead in an efficient manner.

Based in Washington State, the Conservation Canines group has imprinted its dogs for projects searching for jaguars in Brazil, spotted owls in the Northwest, and even orcas in the ocean. It’s become a proven way to collect a lot of valuable information about where scarce animals live in a short amount of time.