Using Scent-Matching Dogs to Identify Individual Amur Tigers from Scats



Abstract: Scent-matching dogs have previously been used to identify caged individual Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) by fecal material (scat), but this technique has not been tested in the wild. We tested the hypothesis that trained dogs can identify individual tigers by unique characteristics present in scat. To conduct this work, we used 5 dogs and 58 scats from 25 known individual tigers in independent trials. Dogs correctly selected matched test scats at an average rate of 87% (SE ± 1.4%, n = 521 trials). The average accuracy rates for 4 dogs increased to 98% (SE ± 1.6%, n = 86 sets of repeated-trials) using repeated-trial tests. Each of 5 dogs made correct choices better than expected by chance (dog 1 χ21 = 507.9, P ≤ 0.001; dog 2 χ21 = 882.1, P ≤ 0.001; dog 3 χ21 = 374.1, P ≤ 0.001; dog 4 χ21 = 379.2, P ≤ 0.001; and dog 5 χ21 = 103.9, P ≤ 0.001). Four dogs were able to match 11 scats deposited over a 4-year period from one tiger with an accuracy of 100% (n = 40 trails). This method may be a useful alternative to genetic analyses that are used in conjunction with scat-sampling schemes in studies for which DNA genotyping is impractical or ineffective. Used with mark—recapture surveys to estimate species abundance, scent-matching dogs have the potential of being important tools in the study of wild Amur tigers, as well as other wildlife species.