Source: Department of Conservation
One of the elder statesmen of New Zealand conservation reached the end of an enviable life last week with the passing of Neo the Whio dog.
Date: 23 June 2020
During his 15 years with his best mate and handler, Opotiki-based Andy Glaser, Neo brought his considerable nasal skills to bear in support of a wide range of conservation activities.
The German Short-haired Pointer was one of only a few dogs certified to find more than one species of native animal.
Although most are specialists finding the one species of threatened fauna they are trained for, Neo was adept at finding whio/blue duck, as well as petrel, weka, kiwi and even tuatara.
It was, however, whio with which he really made his name and he and Andy were to become pivotal in what is now the Whio Forever programme delivered in association with Genesis.
As Neo the Whio Dog, he spent many, many hours searching streams and rivers in the backblocks looking for the rarest of our native waterfowl.
The results of that work are to be seen in way whio are now enjoying a rapid population revival in areas known as security sites which provide a protected haven for the birds, and in recovery sites where our blue ducks are increasingly seen.
Neo was equally well-known for his role as an advocate for conservation being one of the media darlings of the Conservation Dogs Programme run by the Department of Conservation in partnership with Kiwibank.
In this role, Neo made numerous TV appearances, showcasing the modern professional standards required of both dog and handler as they found whio, petrel, tuatara and kiwi, or weka and presenting his more informal side in live studio situations.
Naturally enough where TV went, print media followed and numerous articles have appeared over the years telling the stories of his adventures from one end of the country to the other.
It probably goes without saying, but a modern celebrity of his stature also needed a social media presence.
To that end, Neo the Whio Dog has a Facebook page curated by his “mum” and co-handler Mithuna Sothieson. It’s a showcase of Neo and his grandsons’ exploits, highlighting their role and talents as Conservation Dogs, while also capturing the hearts and minds of almost 4000 followers.
Though obviously deeply saddened at losing a dearly-loved mate, Andy says the life Neo lived would be the envy of any dog.
“His nose and talents provided so many opportunities for adventures throughout some of New Zealand’s wildest beautiful places to help people with their threatened species programmes.
“We consider ourselves to be so blessed to have had Neo and thankful to have shared such an amazing life following him in his quests.
“He was an extraordinary dog, with a kind, gentle soul and so incredibly loyal trusting and honest.
“In reflecting, I see that Neo was so selfless and did it all for love – such an amazing attribute”.
In some ways the Swiss Army Knife of conservation dogs, Neo helped pave the way for a modern practice of dogs being employed to help save and protect threatened native fauna.
Those who follow, especially grandson Beau and great-grandson Max, may not have the same diversity of experience, but as they put their noses to work they will be a constant reminder of the contribution Neo made to our recent New Zealand conservation story.
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