Detection success of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) scat by dog-human and human-only teams in a semi-arid savanna
Keywords:canine, carnivore survey, cheetah, conservation, detection dog, Namibia, non-invasive survey, scat, wildlife monitoring
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), like many other terrestrial large carnivores, exhibits elusive behaviour, occurs in low numbers over large home ranges, and has experienced population decline and range contraction. Therefore, long-term conservation strategies are needed which rely on accurate ecological data. Surveys using scat collection and analysis can generate these data and using scat detection dogs (Canis familiaris) is an effective method to gather scat samples. However, transect dimensions, local weather conditions and vegetation can influence the scat detection success. We conducted an experiment evaluating the influence of these factors on a scat detection dog-handler team, to assist the planning of optimal survey designs. We placed cheetah scat along transects of varying sizes established in different vegetation conditions and recorded environmental parameters during searches. Additionally, we evaluated the dog's performance compared to that of human searchers on one identical set of transects. The dog had an average detection rate of 45% and an accuracy rate of 100% over all trials. Increasing search time and decreasing transect width had the strongest positive influences on the detection rate. If transect dimensions did not exceed 100 m in length and 25 m in width, the dog achieved a detection rate of 93.3%, resembling the effective search area. We found no significant influences of weather conditions and vegetation cover. Human searchers achieved a detection rate of 22% and an accuracy rate of 55% compared to a 75% detection rate and 100% accuracy rate for the dog on the identical transects. To increase sample return, we recommend the calibration of study designs for individual dog-handler teams, as well as more frequent use of scat detection dogs for surveying populations of rare carnivores.
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