Meet Toby, pest detective

Toby, canine pest detective

 

Amy Knopers and Toby the scat dog are on the Otago Regional Council’s wallaby eradication team, tracking and hunting down these introduced pests.

We recently joined 23-year-old Amy and Toby on a hunt, to understand how they and the rest of the crew from High Country Contracting have been dealing in large scale pest control for the Otago Regional Council for almost 2 years now.

As well as trackers and detection dogs, High Country Contracting use drones and thermal cameras, adding some new tech to the tried-and-true boots on the ground approach.

ORC’s Team Leader Environmental Implementation, Libby Caldwell says, “When it comes to controlling wallaby in Otago, our region’s terrain presents several challenges and as Otago has relatively low numbers of wallabies they can be elusive and hard to locate.

Wallabies are a threat to our environment as they compete with livestock, can foul pasture, damage fences , destroy crops, contribute to erosion and can negatively impact native bush regeneration  through eating native trees and plants in the forest undergrowth. It’s really important that the community report any sightings of Wallabies to the Otago Regional Council."

The Otago Regional Council are working alongside other councils as part of a national coordinated effort under MPI’s Wallaby Eradication Programme.

Amy and Toby working the Waitaki river

 

While Amy does the work for the love of it, Toby is motivated by tennis balls. Read on to find out more about the duo, including how Toby was moments away from euthanasia before being rescued by Amy. 

What breed is Toby?
“We’re not sure really, he’s a rescue and about four years old. My best guess is a spaniel crossed with a fox terrier.”

What is a scat dog?
Toby is trained to find and indicate on wallaby scat (poo). He is a certified under the Department of Conservation’s conservation dog programme as a scat dog. Both Amy and Toby are linked to an app called WALLIS, quick capture software that puts everything they do on the national wallaby database, so that teams can map the areas that have been searched.

How long does it take to train a scat dog?
Between 18 months to 2 years.

Do you look for anything in particular in a potential scat dog?
“I wanted a dog that was absolutely psychotic about toys, a super high toy drive is ideal. All he wanted to do was play with a tennis ball. A good detection dog needs something he really, really wants to work for. For Toby, the ultimate thing in the world is a tennis ball.”

Tell us about Toby’s lucky break.
He has a boundless enthusiasm for his work (and the tennis ball) - perhaps it’s because he knows how lucky he is. Toby was due to be euthanised the day Amy and her father rescued him four years ago. He even had a shaved patch on his paw, ready for the needle.  Rescuing him turned out to be a boon for regional pest control, and very bad news for wallabies.

What makes wallabies so tricky, as a pest?
“They are people shy and don’t stand in the open like deer or hide up a tree like a possum. That’s a little bit simplistic, but essentially, they’re very cautious, so to find them you’ve got to work for it. Wallabies will feel the dogs before they hear them, as their first main sense is vibration because they have their tails on the ground. They will also thump the ground with their tail to warn other wallabies that humans and dogs are around so they can hide in holes in the ground.”

 

Wallaby sightings

In the South Island, Bennet’s wallaby are the pest. They are now in Otago and ORC is trying to stop the spread.

In terms of New Zealand’s national pest problem, Amy and Toby and ORC’s work is not in isolation. It is an incredibly important part of the greater whole of protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity, natural and production environments, and in this case Otago’s iconic landscapes from pest wallabies. Biosecurity New Zealand (MPI) funds the National Wallaby Eradication Programme and the Otago Regional Council’s wallaby control work.

Thanks to this investment, when you report a wallaby in Otago, a team is dispatched to deal with it within 24 hours.

Report a wallaby sighting

Managing our environment and wallabies

TV1 News story on wallaby numbers

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