Gender discrimination Pygmy Hippo

2021-2023 Training dogs to smell the difference between male and female pygmy hippo by their dung

The pygmy hippopotamus, Choeropsis liberiensis is a shy inhabitant of the Upper Guinea Forest ecosystem of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. With only a handful observed in the wild, little is known about this secretive creature. During the day they are in the water, in a kind of shelters in the banks of rivers. At night they go into the jungle to eat, but rarely is anyone to see or hear these charismatic animals. In partnership with the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals (IBREAM), Conservation Dog Services is exploring the feasibility to see if the dog's sensitive nose can distinguish a male pygmy hippo from a female pygmy hippo by smelling their dung.  For IBREAM’s Pygmy Hippo conservation program, Conservation Dog Services will investigate if dogs can be used as a reliable method to provide preliminary gender demographics for wild pygmy hippopotamus. Can dogs be used to determine gender of pygmy hippopotamus when presented with faeces from different pygmy hippopotami of both sexes living in captivity and in the wild?

Four dogs are trained with dung samples from zoo animals first, so we can be 100 percent sure whether the poop comes from a male or a female and refine the dog’s detection technique. The dogs are learning to identify the specific odour of males using positive reinforcement. But also, they have to learn to discriminate this male odour from female pygmy hippo odour. This is the first time sniffer dogs are used to obtain gender information of animals using faecal samples, making this project truly one-of-a-kind. Currently, the dogs are demonstrating 96% accuracy in positive identification of samples from male pygmy hippos.

In a few months, samples from wild animals will be collected in the Ivory Coast and transported to the Netherlands. Hopefully the dogs can tell us how many males and how many females live in this beautiful National Parc. This information is of great importance for a good conservation plan!

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