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Monday, April 12, 2021

Zorro to the rescue

A team of scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) have launched a crowdfunding project, raising funds to train Zorro, a border collie-springer spaniel cross puppy, to help them save an endangered species of owl.

The Difficult Bird Research Group are hoping to train Zorro to detect the scent of masked owls in the Tasmanian forest, by sniffing out owl pellets (regurgitated, indigestible parts of prey) on the forest floor.

“Masked owls are very hard to find using ordinary survey techniques, and in remote, rugged Tasmanian forests, trudging around at night looking for owls is both unsafe and inefficient, so we had to get creative and find a new solution,” said Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who’s leading the campaign.

“By training Zorro to find owl pellets, we will dramatically improve the efficiency and accuracy of owl surveys, which will allow us undertake the first detailed research on what Tasmanian owls need to survive.”

Management of the species is difficult, with information often being pieced together from scraps of information.

“Deforestation is presenting a major threat to the birds, so there’s an urgent need to update management practices with reliable information,” said PhD student Adam Cisterne.

Masked owls are classified as an endangered species in Tasmania. They are nocturnal and their preferred forest habitat makes the collection of data incredibly difficult.

“We urgently need a new way to find masked owls, and with his amazing sense of smell, this crowdfund will help us train Zorro to be a hero for masked owl science,” Dr Stojanovic said.

The team are hoping to raise $60,000 to fund the project.

In conjunction with the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Conservation Detection Dog Program, the funds will be used to train Zorro, and another un-named puppy (who will be “Zorro’s sidekick” in owl detection). It will also fund the undertaking of the first systematic survey of Tasmanian logged forests for masked owls.

For more information or to donate, visit pozible.com/project/operation-owl-dog before Sunday 16 September.

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