Sniffing out Kosciuszko’s hawkweeds

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NSW OEH dog handler Hillary Cherry takes a search break with detection dog Sally.

I’ve spent the past week in Kosciuszko National Park, contributing to the mammoth team effort eradicating hawkweeds (Hieracium species) from mainland Australia. Dozens of parks staff, state weeds staff, contractors and volunteers train their eyes on rosettes that could otherwise be mistaken for common daisies. Their goal is to find and kill every last one of these interlopers.

The searchers’ newest team-mate Sally prefers to follow her nose. She’s a working dog trained specifically to distinguish hawkweeds’ scent from the other plants occurring in the Alpine National Park. I’ve been helping set up fully- and partially- controlled experiments to evaluate detection dogs’ strengths and weaknesses, and compare them to the skills that human teams have been honing for years.

Last week’s program brought together the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources, my University of Melbourne representation and a cluster of dedicated volunteers, with cameo appearances from dog trainer Steve Austin and up-and-coming detection dog Connor. We’re making great progress, thanks to our diverse skills and shared goals.

Our cutest colleagues are getting coverage on ABC News. For the rest of us it’s time to map track logs, sort spreadsheets and figure out the best way forward.

 

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