The hedgehog population is rapidly declining.
One of the many threats they face is when the land they live on is cleared for development. Although developers must look for animals at risk and move them, it’s easier said than done. Hedgehogs spend most of the day curled up in nests that are hard to spot with the naked eye. As well as the destruction of vital habitat, hedgehogs are often killed or injured by machinery when land is cleared for building works. To tackle this threat, we need to find nesting hedgehogs and move them to safety. But they’re very difficult to find, especially in the nest. Conventional hedgehog surveying is usually done at night by a single person with a spotlight. We want to find a more reliable way to ensure the safety of our spikey friends.
Enter Henry, the incredible detection dog!
Henry’s one of a group of conservation detective dogs from Conservation K9 Consultancy. He and his fellow dog colleagues sniff out all manner of things, from bat carcasses and pine martens in the UK, to ivory, leopard skin, shark fin, and pangolin scales in Africa. We’re working with Hartpury University and Conservation K9 Consultancy to train Henry to detect nesting hedgehogs on potential development sites. Right now, Henry’s in the middle of his training and initial results are really encouraging; he’s already been finding hedgehogs that his handler couldn’t locate. When he finds one, he gives his handler a signal by quietly sitting nearby. Detection dogs are already widely used for all sorts of detection. So why not hedgehogs?
Will you support our vital conservation work by buying a hedgehog gift?
How does it work?
With a sense of smell 100,000 times more sensitive than ours, Henry can sniff out a hedgehog that humans don’t stand a chance of finding. But dogs still have to learn a particular smell and train hard to become really skilled trackers. Which is why Henry’s receiving training to specifically sniff out hedgehogs at different times of the day and year. It’s likely that hedgehogs have a different smell when hibernating than when they’re active, so more training is required.
Even though it’s likely that Henry will be able to track hedgehogs far better than humans, the methodology must be proven. So our project leader, Lucy, is testing this theory.
Lucy starts by finding hedgehogs herself the traditional way with spotlights and marking them with a small radio-tracking device. When Henry has his turn, Lucy compares his ability to find the same hedgehogs, no hedgehogs or other ones in a range of different habitats, both during the night when hedgehogs are active and in the day when they are nesting. She then looks again herself, this time using thermal cameras, to see if he’s missed any and to test another way of detecting hidden ‘hogs. Repeating this over both summer and winter will reveal how effective Henry is at finding nesting hedgehogs compared to humans, even when aided by a thermal camera.
This evidence suggests we may soon have a new method that’s more effective for finding vulnerable hedgehogs at risk from land development, and move them out of harm’s way. Eventually, more dogs could be trained by professionals to be conservation detection dogs, meaning more hedgehogs could be saved.