Stephanie M. Dloniak

Writing about science, nature, and adventure for children and adults.




Stephanie M. Dloniak shared Zambian Carnivore Programme's photo. ... See MoreSee Less

Threatened Cats Have a New Ally in the Fight Against Extinction: Dogs (Photo--A detection dog Pepin searches for cheetah scat in Liuwa Plain, photo by Dave Hamman) A new study on cheetah in Liuwa Plain using detection dogs: A recent study highlighting the alarming plight of the world’s cheetah has made improving methods of surveying and evaluating the rare cats’ remaining populations critical for conservation efforts. However cheetah, particularly in the vast remote ecosystems where many of the remaining populations reside, are extremely difficult to survey. Fortunately an unlikely ally for the cats has emerged, from none other than the dog family. A new study from Zambia’s Liuwa Plain funded by WWF and National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative demonstrates the effective use of detection dogs in surveying for cheetah. Using domestic dogs specially trained to locate scat and other sign, a team of researchers conducted an intensive 3 week survey across Liuwa Plain National Park and a key corridor area between the park and neighboring Angola, which comprises the Liuwa-Mussuma Transfrontier Conservation Area. While traditional survey methods failed to detect any cheetah, the dogs found 50 scats, which after genetic analyses equated to a population of 17-19 animals at a moderate density. “The abilities of dogs to find animal sign, even in very low density species like cheetah, continues to demonstrate how valuable detection dogs are for conservation efforts,” said Dr. Megan Parker, Research Director for Working Dogs for Conservation and an author on the study. “Without them we didn’t even detect cheetah in the area, while the dogs found what equates to a viable breeding population in a key transboundary area. For the dogs this is no surprise, but for us it again demonstrated their utility for big cat conservation.” With its utility now demonstrated this method is broadly applicable across the range of habitats and conditions for threatened cats across Africa. “Cheetah are notoriously difficult to get information on given they are so wide-ranging, low-density and often secretive,” said WWF Species and Protected Area Specialist Moses Nyirenda, a co-author on the study. “Most cheetah are outside protected areas, often in transboundary areas and methods of surveying these remote populations are still challenging at best.” The survey was the first utilization of detection dogs in Zambia, following several years of development by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), and the success of the study has lead to the acceptance and implementation of detection dog teams across the country for use in combatting the illegal wildlife trade. “We knew the dogs would find more cheetah than would be possible with traditional means,” said Dr. Matt Becker, CEO of ZCP and the lead author on the study, “But we didn’t realize just how effective they were going to be. This is a huge additional tool in the tool kit for cheetah conservation and conservation efforts in Africa in general, as well as yet another reason to love dogs!”

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I am an American biologist slowly morphing into a science-nature-adventure writer. I am ultimately interested in our relationships with the natural world, and I mainly write features about wildlife research and conservation, the environment, and travel in wild (and some not-so-wild) places.

I was born and raised in the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Titusville’s main claim to fame is the world’s first oil well, drilled by Colonel Edwin L. Drake in 1859. Ida Tarbell, a muckraker of note, also called Titusville home for a number of years.

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