Dr. Kate Jenks is a Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo. She was recently in Thailand leading the Zoo’s efforts to save endangered dholes (otherwise known as Asian wild dogs) in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
After a long bitterly cold Minnesota winter, I was certainly looking forward to traveling to Thailand. Well, I wanted warm — our temperatures have been breaking 100 degrees! I have been hiking through bamboo forest every day searching for signs of wildlife (usually footprints or feces). My “new normal” state is sweat dripping in my eyes, sweat running down my legs, clothes soaked in sweat. Did I say it is hot? Did I mention we are hiking up mountains and bushwhacking through dense forest?
The jackpot, a sight that gets our team smiling, is a fresh pile of poop! Our goal is to collect scat from wild carnivores, to test them for canine parvovirus. This is a disease that your dog at home is routinely vaccinated for. Dogs in Thailand, however, are not vaccinated. This means they are vulnerable to diseases that can also be passed on to wildlife, such as their wild relatives called dholes. Dholes are an endangered species, not feral dogs, and a disease outbreak could be devastating to their already low population numbers.
In our quest to study wild dholes, we rarely see the animals themselves. Instead, we rely on camera traps to be our “eyes in the forest.” The cameras have a sensor to detect heat and motion. So, a picture is taken automatically when an animal walks in front of the camera. This helps us know where an animal was in the forest and when it travelled that path. I am interested to learn about areas that are used by both domestic dogs and dholes. This could help us find areas where these species could be at high risk of sharing diseases when they are sick.