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8 animals helping humans save the planet

By: Sidney Stevens on Nov. 18, 2011, 8:37 a.m.
dog and handler in the mountains

Photo: Working Dogs for Conservation

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Man’s best friend is proving to be more than just a good companion and shepherd. Dogs, it turns out, are also quite capable conservationists. A group called Working Dogs for Conservation, as well as others like Conservation Dogs in the U.K., use canines to sniff out animal and plant populations so researchers can monitor and preserve them — an eco-variation on drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs. Because of their acute sense of smell and ability to traverse rugged terrain, dogs not only effectively nose for difficult-to-detect animal scat (poop), but they also help locate rare live animals and plants. Canine conservation projects include tracking jaguars in the Amazon rain forest and Mexico and monitoring Asiatic black bears classified as vulnerable in China. In the future they may even be used to detect indoor air contaminants.