Sunday, May 23, 2010

PPM 5/23/10

Deployment Date: May 15, 2010

Target Species : Pacific Pocket Mouse (Perognathus longimembris pacificus)

CK-9 Team Roster:
Team Romeo
Handler: Heath Smith began working with the Center for Conservation Biology in 2001 with CK-9 Gator. Heath and Alli last worked together in 2008 surveying for Marten north of Mt Shasta, CA.
CK-9 Alli, displaying a surgical finesse tactic geared at reducing ecological disturbance to critical areas
Team Juliette
Handler: Julie Ubigau returns after completing a successful deployment on PPM in 2009 with Ck-9 Casey. Julie will be changing gears and reuniting with CK-9 Sampson after their 2008 deployment surveying for Marten in northern CA.
CK-9 Sampson, a cactus bustin’ get ‘er done approach geared at surveying a large area
Team Tango CK-9 Casey, a fine tuned search & locate method for sample extraction on a micro habitat scale. After successfully demonstrating the ability for detection dogs to locate super tiny poop, Ck-9 Casey returns for another tour as secondary micro habitat support for the team.

Logistical Support: USGS WERC

CPE (Canine Protective Equipment) Support:
Ruff Wear – for dogs on the go!
                                    Bark N’ Boots - Grip Trex & Skyliner
                                    Swamp Cooler Cooling Vest
                                    Hi-Vis Track Jacket
                                    Flat Out Leash

Data Collection Equipment Checklist:
HP IPAQ Classic 111 handheld computer
                                    Visiontac VGPS-700 bluetooth GPS
                                    Visiontac VGPS-900 standalone GPS datalogger

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Well we’ve got our first week under our belts and I figured it was time to sit down and starting blogging. As per the normal Heath and Julie schedule we planned on a 6am departure from Pack Forest and finally headed out of Eatonville around 1 in the afternoon, right on time. J The trip down was fairly uneventful, with a short pit stop in Redding, CA where we rendezvoused with Griffon of the NSO crew and handed off some field gear for the team. After somewhere around 23 hours on the road we finally pulled in to Oceanside around 8pm Sunday night. We owe a huge THANKS to Cheryl, Laura and Scott with the USGS, who were nice enough to find a house perfect for the dogs with a fully fenced in back yard.

Monday morning it was time to get to work. With Julie just finishing up substituting on Friday we’d taken the “just throw everything in the truck and we’ll sort it out when we get there” packing approach. This actually worked quite well, but left most of Monday to organizing and grocery shopping. With all the major chains of stores less than 5 miles from the house you’d think shopping would be easy, but surprisingly it became quite a chore to find Eco friendly alternatives. I guess we’d gotten spoiled living in WA, and were quite shocked to learn that CA didn’t offer the same alternatives. With organization and shopping out of the way we were ready to commence training and head to the field tomorrow.

This study is unique in that we are dealing with a scat about 1mm in size. If that wasn’t hard enough, the pocket mouse prefers sandy soils so not only are the scat super super small, but we’re trying to locate it in an environment that is rapidly changing when disturbed. It goes without saying but, when we get poop this small for training we have to take extra special care of it. Any poop that gets blown away by the dogs breath, stuck on the end of a wet nose, or stepped on by a misplaced foot is gone for good.

We began the first phase of training back at the Ck-9 facility at Pack Forest by introducing PPM scat samples to the dogs in mason jars. Using a technique developed by Julie and Michelle Manza last year, we purchased some standard lattice and window screen from the local hardware to construct a protective pin-pointing device for our microscopic poops. With this protective screen laid out flat on the ground we are able to place single poops underneath and have the dog work the screen to pinpoint the exact location of the scat without disturbing it. It was amazing to see Casey and Timmy do this last year, it’s even crazier to see a block head like Sampson doing it this year!

We started work with the screen Tuesday morning in the backyard and then took a quick trip to the field that afternoon. Once we start training in the field we call this phase the “burn-in” period, which can sometimes take the dogs up to two weeks to get through. Items important for shortening a “burn-in” include; 1) lots of fresh wild scat for training 2) areas known to harbor wild populations of your target species. Luckily our friends here at the USGS were able to supply both of these in great quantities. Since we’d had a substantial amount of known PPM scats for training we were able to easily communicate to the dogs what odor we are looking for in the field. We try to use as many different scats in training to help the dog generalize on a species rather than specialize on an individual or sex of that species. That way when we get to the field they have a solid understanding of what we need them to find. Our next step is to hide samples in the field and have the dogs find those, however, that is a little tougher when dealing with such small poop. To simulate this we burry small baby food jars containing a number of poops in a small area and have the dog locate them. We then enlarge our search area to areas that we know contain PPM populations. With the help of USGS experts we had the dogs alerting to PPM burrows the first day. The dogs are still a long way from doing this on their own but it was fantastic to get off to such an incredible start.

Through the week we continued with field training in the morning, taking our screen along with us to the field to start the each day with some pinpoint exercises. The dogs then took turns working areas pre-determined to have PPM populations.

Sampson is a PPM locating fiend that was super quick to pick up on the task, and thanks to our friends at Ruff Wear dog gear he is able to do it safely. Our field site is loaded with Prickly Pear and Cholla cactus and Sampson in is exuberance is completely oblivious to any physical deterrents and crashes through cactus like they were tissue paper. We use Ruff Wear Bark n’ Boots to help protect the dog’s feet from cactus while they are working. Without Ruff Wear’s support we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the conservation work we do.

Working in Southern California comes with other dangers as well, rattlesnakes! We’ve outfitted our 1st aid kits and located the appropriate vets in the area but we wanted to take it a step further and got the dogs vaccinated. While the vaccine won’t fully protect the dogs against a rattlesnake bite, it will hopefully give us a little extra time to get them to a vet and antivenin. Being non-profit we work on very tight budgets and I was surprised to learn that Petco actually offers reduced cost vaccinations. The added bonus is you don’t have to pay visitation fee of $45 to $65 dollars for a vet to weigh the dogs and look in their ears. Our dogs are very well taken care of by the Comparative Medicine staff at the University of Washington so we’re comfortable skipping a $45 vet visit just for a vaccination. Thanks Petco!

On a funny note, Sampson can tear through cactus all day long but as soon as the vet came over to give him his shot he started crying like a baby. The vet hadn’t even given him the shot yet.

We finished out the day on Friday with the dogs fully vaccinated and independently locating new PPM burrows on their own.

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