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Source: Department of Conservation

Introduction

Heroic rescues of frightened dogs from the sub-Antarctic islands will become an even rarer event with the introduction of tracking collars under a new Conservation Dogs Programme (CDP) policy

Date:  21 February 2020

Flint the rodent detection dog famously needed a long-distance helicopter rescue after he took flight following a charge by an aggressive sealion in November last year.

In spite of extensive efforts, including using helicopters with thermal-imaging cameras, Flint couldn’t be found and had to be left on the island until a search and rescue mission could be launched.

While it all ended happily, the CDP has now made it mandatory for all dogs working on the sub-Antarctic Islands, Raoul in the Kermadec group or either Rangatira or Mangere in the Chatham Islands to wear GPS tracking collars.

CDP Manager Helen Neale said the Flint incident hadn’t sparked the decision but it had certainly reinforced that it is the right one to make.

Mrs Neale said consideration of using tracking collars was underway well before Flint went missing.

“But it’s not a straight-forward issue – there are practical drawbacks to putting collars on our dogs while they are working.”

As an example, the chances of getting tangled in the dense undergrowth typical of Campbell Island where Flint went missing is greatly increased.

“So physically, it adds another layer of difficulty to the dog’s work and potentially that will deter them from being as thorough with their inspections as we would like.”

Given the average cost of a pest animal incursion on a pest free island is in the order of $30,000 – and the figure is kept low by most incursions being on easily accessed islands – missing a pest on a remote island could come at considerable expense.

“We know for fact that the longer a pest goes undetected the more damage it does and the more potential it has for becoming an established population of predators; so weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of dogs wearing collars has taken some time and lots of debate.

“We need to do these inspections and we want to ensure we don’t lose highly valuable dogs from the conservation front line, so that tipped us to say let’s run with the collars despite the disadvantages.”

With improving technology, the tracking hardware should get smaller over time so the disadvantages will become even less.

So too will the admittedly rare occasions when dogs such as Flint need to be rescued, Mrs Neale said.

“We can never say never again, but hopefully if there is a next time it won’t be because we can’t find the dog.”

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MIL OSI