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Zoos Victoria Train Maremma Bodyguards In Bid To Save Bandicoots

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Teams of highly trained dogs will be deployed as “bodyguards” for bandicoots threatened by feral cats and foxes, in an initiative which could help reverse the precipitous decline in several other Australian native species.

Zoos Victoria is to run an extensive trial to determine whether groups of Maremma dogs can become trusted allies to the eastern barred bandicoot, which has been virtually wiped out in Australia.

The small marsupial is extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, with a modest population remaining in Tasmania. A captive population of around 400 bandicoots is spread across four breeding sites in Australia.

Feral cats and foxes have preyed upon the bandicoots with disastrous results. Previous attempts to breed them in fenced areas have had limited success.

Zoos Victoria will take on a full-time dog trainer to work with seven Maremma puppies. The dogs, which like to work in pairs, will be sent to three different test sites in Victoria to see if they can effectively protect bandicoots without the need for fences. The spare Maremma puppy will be used by Zoos Victoria as a fundraising ambassador.

Maremma dogs, a type of sheepdog that originated in Italy, have been used for centuries to guard livestock. But they have also recently been used in more unusual conservation efforts.

In 2006, the dogs were introduced to Middle Island in Victoria, to help protect a colony of little penguins. Foxes had wreaked havoc on the island, reducing the 1,500-strong colony to less than 10 by killing swaths of the penguins.

However, the introduction of Oddball, a Maremma dog that previously guarded chickens, provided the penguins with some canine muscle. Oddball, who was later joined by other dogs, chased away the foxes and penguin numbers subsequently revived.

Maremma dogs are considered ideal for conservation work because they can bond to an array of other creatures while also viewing feral pests as mortal enemies. The dogs have formed friendships with sheep, goats, chickens and gannets in the past. In controlled experiments, sheep that heard dingo calls instinctively ran behind the dogs for protection.

In the first trial in Tiverton in western Victoria, bandicoots will be bred in a fenced area while a further 50 will be bred in an unfenced area guarded by a pair of dogs. Zoos Victoria will socialise the dogs with the bandicoots and teach them to guard the area, over an intensive two-year training period.

If successful, further dogs will be dragooned to create the fighting extinction dog squad, which will bravely battle feral pests that threaten an array of native species. Animals that could benefit from this approach include wallabies, mice and even the kiwi in New Zealand.

Rachel Lowry, director of wildlife conservation at Zoos Victoria, told Guardian Australia that the dogs could prove crucial in helping preserve bandicoot numbers.

“We really want to get the numbers up to 2,500 in the next five years and if this works we will well and truly be able to do that,” she said.

“Maremmas are a beautiful dog breed, very intelligent. I’d expect them to protect the bandicoots as they did with the penguins. I think they will get on well, but I’ve been advised they like the company of a flock, so we’ll be putting in some sheep with them. Bandicoots are small, run fast and are active at night, so they aren’t as good company.”

Lowry said there was an “endless list” of species that could benefit from guardian dogs if the trials proved fruitful.

“We are desperate for apex predators in Australia because at the moment feral cats and foxes are dominant,” she said. “At the moment, if someone leaves a gate open or a fence is damaged by a kangaroo, foxes can get in and all our breeding work is lost.

“But if you put in a dog, it puts fear into the feral predator because they sense the presence of another apex predator. The potential for this is really exciting.

“The other benefit is that this apex predator is a dog, which we love and are used to having in our homes. It would be a bit more politically difficult to do this with dingoes.”

Beate Sexton, a Maremma owner and dog trainer, said: ‘Maremma aren’t antagonistic to other animals at all. Predators will stalk an animal and fixate on it, whereas a Maremma will avert its gaze, even with people.

“I think they can make a fantastic guardian for animals in need of their protection. This trial is a very good step, I think.”

The initiative will cost $580,000 over five years, and Zoos Victoria is seeking external donations to help fully fund the project.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/08/zoos-victoria-trains-maremma-bodyguards-save-bandicoots

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I hope it works but I have my doubts due to the natural fearful nature of the bandicoot, it'll be hard for the maremma to bond to. Also int he wilderness with no fences the maremma will naturally try to extend its territory and could be lost or not protect the right area. Also maremmas did kill a few birds on that island when they first started I believe.

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It's worth a go and I really hope they succeed. :) Putting a few sheep to hang out with sounds like a good idea.

It could be a flop, but things are getting desperate for some of our natives. :(

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I can see them bonding to the sheep and not the bandicoots. Like a maremma bonding to the sheep in the field but not the field mice.

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I think they should try but I have serious doubts it will work is all. Goodluck to them.

Edited by mixeduppup

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Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

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Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

Edited by mixeduppup

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Steve   

I hope it works but I have my doubts due to the natural fearful nature of the bandicoot, it'll be hard for the maremma to bond to. Also int he wilderness with no fences the maremma will naturally try to extend its territory and could be lost or not protect the right area. Also maremmas did kill a few birds on that island when they first started I believe.

I have absolutely no doubt it will work if they do the first steps correctly - Ive seen them in many different bonding situations and they will win these little guys over in a heart beat - they will understand what they are looking after and what they need to protect - no doubt what ever for me - but Im not convinced they have the first bit right - in my opinion giving the dog a toy isnt going to cut it and I hope they understand what they need to do.

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Steve   

I can see them bonding to the sheep and not the bandicoots. Like a maremma bonding to the sheep in the field but not the field mice.

If I introduced the dog to the field mice so he saw that as normal and welcome in a sheep paddock they would look after them too. Same as they look after the maggie's here and kill the crows in the sheep paddock.

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Steve   

Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

Both.

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Steve   

Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

MUP I think you have it wrong - Ive seen them in some extra ordinary situations and if I asked them to guard a mouse family they would.

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Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

MUP I think you have it wrong - Ive seen them in some extra ordinary situations and if I asked them to guard a mouse family they would.

I worry about the other native animals that they haven't been introduced to. If they do it wrong they'll screw up the entire ecosystem. They're going to have to bond them to every animal that is meant to be in the environment and just not ferals. That's a lot of animals.

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Steve   

Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

MUP I think you have it wrong - Ive seen them in some extra ordinary situations and if I asked them to guard a mouse family they would.

I worry about the other native animals that they haven't been introduced to. If they do it wrong they'll screw up the entire ecosystem. They're going to have to bond them to every animal that is meant to be in the environment and just not ferals. That's a lot of animals.

Not true - they dont bond with the others - simply see them as normal. I have a couple that work in a wallaby refuge and accept what is normal but are bonded to the wallabies they dont clear the area of everything else - just what is a threat and not seen as normal. Same here they allow the native birds and frogs , the maggies free movement but take out a crow in a heart beat.

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Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

MUP I think you have it wrong - Ive seen them in some extra ordinary situations and if I asked them to guard a mouse family they would.

I worry about the other native animals that they haven't been introduced to. If they do it wrong they'll screw up the entire ecosystem. They're going to have to bond them to every animal that is meant to be in the environment and just not ferals. That's a lot of animals.

Not true - they dont bond with the others - simply see them as normal. I have a couple that work in a wallaby refuge and accept what is normal but are bonded to the wallabies they dont clear the area of everything else - just what is a threat and not seen as normal. Same here they allow the native birds and frogs , the maggies free movement but take out a crow in a heart beat.

But wouldn't putting in sheep bond them to the sheep and not the bandicoot? And how about letting them guard in wilderness? I can see them going misssing or leaving the area to make more territory.

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Steve   

Do you think they bonded to the penguins or just acted as a sort of doggy scarecrow for the ferals? :D

I think they bonded as they bond to poultry, bonding to tiny little mouse/rat like creatures is another thing. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that there are so many things that could not work.

MUP I think you have it wrong - Ive seen them in some extra ordinary situations and if I asked them to guard a mouse family they would.

I worry about the other native animals that they haven't been introduced to. If they do it wrong they'll screw up the entire ecosystem. They're going to have to bond them to every animal that is meant to be in the environment and just not ferals. That's a lot of animals.

Not true - they dont bond with the others - simply see them as normal. I have a couple that work in a wallaby refuge and accept what is normal but are bonded to the wallabies they dont clear the area of everything else - just what is a threat and not seen as normal. Same here they allow the native birds and frogs , the maggies free movement but take out a crow in a heart beat.

But wouldn't putting in sheep bond them to the sheep and not the bandicoot? And how about letting them guard in wilderness? I can see them going misssing or leaving the area to make more territory.

No I place them in hobby farms where people have several species all being looked after by one dog. As long as the sheep are not seen as a threat they will all live happily ever after - as long as they do the initial phase properly first .

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Steve   

As far as the wilderness is concerned they will need a boundary so some kind of fencing sooner or later will be required but there are numerous situations up north on hundreds of thousands of acres which are working without a problem.

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Steve   

Maremma dont make more territory unless the animals they are bonded to move into more territory .

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Leah82   

This sounds like a great idea, we need to start thinking outside the box to protect our native species.

I do wonder about the Maremma's ability to protect small nocturnal animals who are generally solitary creatures, that definitely poses more of a challenge than a flock of sheep as they can't be everywhere at once.

But we don't know unless we try.

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