Baker, GB and Candy, S and Robinson, S and Friend, JA and Holdsworth, M and Jensz, K and Page, M and Algar, D, Effectiveness of dogs for detecting feral cat scats in wheatbelt reserves of Western Australia, Wildlife Research pp. 1-11. ISSN 1035-3712 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Journal compilation Copyright CSIRO 2021
Context: Dogs are increasingly being used in conservation work to collect information on species abundance, distribution, occupancy and other biological measures. Monitoring feral cats through the use of detection dogs could provide a useful technique to complement existing feral cat survey and control methods.
Aim: To demonstrate and quantify the ability of trained detection dogs to reliably and efficiently detect feral cat scats when present in woodland conservation reserves in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.
Methods: Cat scats were randomly placed into 466 1.5 ha (150 m × 100 m) quadrats in Tutanning Nature Reserve, Western Australia, and the location of the scat was recorded. Quadrats were then independently searched by dogs walking a central transect line and the locations of all scats detected were recorded, with the distance from the scat to the transect subsequently being calculated. Data collected allowed the relationship between distance from the transect and detection probability to be used to assist modelling of detection probabilities.
Key results: Dogs detected scats in 213 (55%) of 384 quadrats that were searched using a single transect line method. All indications of a find by the detector dogs were associated with a cat scat (no false indications). Detection probabilities for scats declined with distance from the transect line and with an increasing age of the scat. Simulations to investigate management options for cat control programs quantified effort required to detect cat scats under varying densities.
Conclusion: Dogs were highly efficient at detecting scats within the woodland environment of the Western Australian wheatbelt. The effort required to detect a scat was considerably higher when cat density was low.
Implications: On the basis of the detection probabilities derived from the present study, trained scat-detection dogs can be expected to efficiently search woodlands and find cat scats by using an effective sweep width of 100 m (50 m either side of a transect) when scats are fresh. Sweep widths need to be reduced significantly if it is important to locate scats that have been exposed to the elements for greater periods of time, or to search habitats where terrain and vegetation cover are more challenging.