Officials working at the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in Mondolkiri province are hoping a small dog can help them learn more about some big cats.
Maggie, a German wirehaired pointer, will begin sniffing around the 300,000-hectare nature re-serve in the coming days for the droppings of the endangered Indochinese tigers, said Hannah O’Kelly, a wildlife monitoring adviser for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society.
The project, run by the New York-based environmental group, aims to learn more about the tiger’s declining numbers by collecting its waste and examining it for clues regarding the animal’s health and habits.
Besides detailing the tiger’s diet, droppings can also reveal the sex, age and genetic makeup of the animal, as well as whether it is pregnant or stressed.
Conservationists said that by analyzing DNA collected from the droppings, they can estimate a baseline population for the ti-gers and use the information to shape preservation and land-management plans.
Linda Kerley, a biologist who trained Maggie in Russia, said most of the dung-sniffing dogs undergo two to three months of intensive training similar to that received by the mine-detecting canines already employed around Cambodia.
The training, she said, works by associating the smell of the tiger’s dung with a toy that is used to reward the hound after it locates the origin of the scent.
“She’s hunting for the tiger so she can play with the ball,” said Kerley. “It’s a game.”
Right now, Maggie’s handlers are letting her adjust to the warm climate while studying maps of the park for ideal tiger habitats where they would be more inclined to find droppings.
O’Kelly said tracking the Indo-chinese tigers through its scat is less invasive and easier rather than trying to pursue the animal through the forest.
“You’re not looking for the animals,” O’Kelly said Sunday by telephone from Mondolkiri province. “You are just looking for their droppings.”
Men Soriyun, a project manager at the nature preserve, said the organization set up cameras to photograph the beasts in the wild but have not captured an image of a tiger since 2005. The last official sighting of one came in early 2007 when a paw print was discovered in the park. Area villa-gers have since then reported spotting the animal or its tracks, none of which could be verified, O’Kelly said.
Still, officials are hopeful the canine-powered program will un-earth a few felines lurking in the forest.
“We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we would find anything,” O’Kelly said.