Detection Dogs Help Rediscover Golden Moles with Esther Matthew and Samantha Mynhardt

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Esther Matthew and Samantha Mynhardt about dogs detecting golden moles.

Science Highlight: None

Links Mentioned in the Episode: re:wild

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:09

Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other Tuesday to talk about detection, training, canine welfare, conservation, biology and everything that connects those three. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of three co-founders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for researchers, NGOs, and agencies.

Kayla Fratt  00:31

Today, I want to start with a shout out to our patron, Sonia. Sonia joined Patreon nearly two years ago, and at the time, she only had one lab whose nosework alert was a little bit less messy, a little bit loud. Sonia stuck through it. And then also had a really tough transition, adding a extremely high drive shelter lab to her home, who had all sorts of challenges for Sonia and she truly impressed me with her dedication to training, not just for detection with both of these dogs, but also with this huge shift in household dynamics and making it all work. And I really can’t wait to see where she goes with Drifter. It’s just been a pleasure to have her around.

Kayla Fratt  01:11

Today, I am super excited about this episode. We’re gonna be talking to Esther Matthew, who we’ve had on the show already a couple of times, we’re gonna have her on again, because she just keeps doing the coolest projects. And then we’re also bringing on her coworker, Sam Mynhardt, to talk about detection dogs and eDNA to help rediscover this really, really cool species of swimming golden moles. Samantha’s audio was a little bit tricky, so if you’re listening while you’re driving on a dirt road, you might want to save this episode for a time where you won’t have quite as much background noise. We’re doing the best we can to clean it up, but it might be a little hard to hear her. And once again, I am drowning in PhD-ville, and I did not have time to put together a science highlight. So we’re just gonna get right into the episode with Esther and Sam.

Kayla Fratt  02:04

All right, well, welcome to the podcast Esther and Sam. So why don’t we start out with introductions, I think many of our listeners are familiar with Esther, but, Sam, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you were involved in this project, what your day job is. If you’ve got any pets, you want to tell us about those sorts of things. Thanks.

Sam Mynhardt  02:21

Yeah, I work for the Endangered Wildlife Trust alongside Esther. We’re part of the drylands conservation program. I’ve been involved with the EWT, now, while I’ve been working for the EWT for a year, and prior to that I was collaborating with DCP on a number of conservation projects. So I’m a conservation geneticist. And I actually come from a more sort of academic background. And mostly mostly doing research involving conservation genetics of populations of species, typically species that are threatened, rare, endangered. So my involvement in this project with the de Winton’s golden mole involved using environmental DNA to search for the species. So environmental DNA would be any DNA that that an organism leaves behind in its environment. So as it moves along in its environment, it would shed skin cells or here or through its excretions that leaves behind its DNA. And we can then detect the DNA in the environment extracted from those samples, and identify the species in those samples. And that was pretty much where my involvement in this project came along. Yeah, as for me and pets, I’m very much a dog lover, although I’ve recently moved to the Western Cape and we downscale to a smaller property and gave our dogs up for adoption, which is very sad. But we still have two cats. And so those are my two beloved pets at the moment.

Kayla Fratt  03:05

Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s tough, but I’m glad you got to keep the cap. That’s really nice. All right. Well, Esther.

Esther Matthew (EM)  04:03

Um, okay. I’m Esther Matthew and I’m a specialist Conservation Officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust. And I work in the dryland Conservation Program, which is basically a program that focuses on the conservation of species and habitats in the arid and semi arid areas of South Africa. So I joined the era VT in 2016. So as part of my work, I trained in detection dogs to help us find rare and elusive species for research and monitoring and conservation purposes. And so for for this golden mole project, as Sam has mentioned that we were looking for environmental DNA or actually any signs that the species still exist. And so to help us out, trained my dog, JC to assist us in finding golden mo Barrows, which I’ll go into more detail later on.

Kayla Fratt  05:08

Yeah. Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to get to talk to you guys about this project. Because I know I think way back when we first talked to you, as to you mentioned this project after we had stopped recording, and I was like, oh, gosh, this is gonna be a cool one. And then, yeah, saw the news come out. I guess at this point we’re recording in early February. This episode is probably going to come out in May or June. Because I’m banking episodes for my upcoming fieldwork. But the news broke about this not that long ago. And I was like, Oh, my God, they did it. This is so cool. So why don’t we we’re gonna have to rewind because not everyone is as tied into this sort of stuff as I am. What is a golden mole? And yeah, what did we know about them and their population, you know, maybe a year ago, a couple years ago.

Sam Mynhardt  05:59

So golden moles are small mammals. They’re, they’re small about the size of a mouse. And they’re subterranean. So that means that they live underground. And they’re pretty much exclusively subterranean. So they pretty much spend their entire life underground. They’re one of the only two families of subterranean mammals that we have the other group or the mole rats, so we have more rats and golden moles, golden moles get their name from the iridescent fur. So they’ve got this kind of shiny, really beautiful, iridescent fur, which is different to the mole rats. And they really are a whole lot cuter than mole rats. Mole rats have have, like large protruding teeth, which you don’t see in golden moles. I’m clarifying the difference because some people confuse the two. And golden moles also don’t have a visible tail. Whereas mole rats do. And mole rats are typically much more abundant. So whenever you see these typical mole hills that people associate with moles, those are more frequently associated with mole rats actually. And golden moles tend to burrow much closer to the surface of the soil like just beneath the surface of the soil. So as they go along, they typically will push up a little ridge, rather than pushing the soil ahead of them and then pushing out a mound of soil. So they actually don’t really push the soil along, they just push it upwards as they go along.

Kayla Fratt  07:32

Oh, cool.

Sam Mynhardt  07:33

But yeah, they’re fascinating little animals are completely blind. So they have a really good sense of hearing and smell, which they use to find their prey there insectivores. So they feed on the invertebrates that live in the soil, and sometimes on the surface of the soil as well. But, yeah, so they use a really amazing sense of smell and hearing to find their prey. But they might mean, we didn’t really know all that much about them. We don’t really know all that much about them. They’re pretty understudied. Some of the more abundant species have been studied relatively well. And we know a little bit about their biology and their physiology and their life histories, but a lot of the species, because golden moles are so restricted in the way that they disperse. And in the movements, many species have really narrow ranges and small, restricted, isolated populations. And so a lot of the species are actually under threat because as soon as there’s a lot of human activity around them, and they can’t disperse away from that the populations become threatened. So of the 21 known species that are across Africa, across Sub Saharan Africa, 17 of those are found in South Africa. 13 of those are endemic to South Africa, which means that only occur here. And 10 of them fall into threat category categories on the IUCN Red List. So that gives you an idea of you know, how threatened they are as a family.

Kayla Fratt  09:12

And these are all moles or golden moles that kind of fall into that?

Sam Mynhardt  09:18

Yeah, these are old golden moles, the 21 species.

Kayla Fratt  09:20

I thought this was just one species. Cool!

Sam Mynhardt  09:23

There are 21 species. Yeah. The de Winton’s species is one species, and that is this species that hadn’t been seen for a really long time. And so that was, you know, kind of the focus of our project. But I have been involved in golden mole work over the last decade or so on various different species as well.

09:48

Wow. Yeah, that’s really neat. Yeah, I definitely thought that there was just one species. So yeah, this, you said it was the Winton small. We haven’t seen for a really long time in the wild which, you know, As you said, they’ve got a small range, they’re underground. Okay, maybe it’s not a huge field, we don’t see one for a little while, but generally not seeing species doesn’t bode well for their future. So kind of, yeah, what did we know about their conservation status? Or what? And what are some of those threats to do this species?

Sam Mynhardt  10:22

Um, yeah, we knew very little about this particular species. So what we know about golden moles in general, I’ve mentioned about how threatened they are by human activities and the restrictions that they’re that they are under, in terms of their abilities to disperse, and also in terms of the need for very particular types of soils that are friable, that they can easily burrow through, and the prey preferences. So they are restricted for those reasons. They some of the species are currently under protection. But the coastal species that are distributed along the west coast of South Africa, are different in the sense that the, this is a really dry, arid area. And characteristic of those habitats is the very dry, sandy soils. And that makes the golden moles that are distributed, they’re even more difficult to find, because usually, we will find them by searching for those raised ridges on the surface of the soil, and then we but in the dry sand, those ridges collapse. And so it’s, it makes it increasingly difficult to actually find signs of their presence.

Sam Mynhardt  11:37

And so, you know, obviously, if a golden Mole has been persisting in a particular area and not seen for decades, it could really just be because they’re so elusive, they, you know, they just don’t show up, and we don’t see them, it’s not necessarily a sign that they’re critically endangered. But this, yeah, this particular species hadn’t been seen for over 80 years. And, and we just knew very little about it. The only specimen that had been described that long ago, was housed in a museum. And we’ve got, you know, a species description from it, but very few other samples that have been studied, you know, really no, no other studies on the species.

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12:18

Yeah, gosh, and 80 years is a long time. We’re not talking like, oh, it’s been a week since you saw your last Robin, or, you know, it’s been a couple of years since I saw my last Wolf, which is, you know, I can only make it a couple minutes without seeing a Robin currently. But, you know, it’s not unusual to to go to go without being able to see something for a while. But it doesn’t mean this out there. But 80 years is a long time for nobody to see anything.

Sam Mynhardt  12:43

Yeah, long enough to be considered lost.

12:48

Exactly. That’s, that’s a very long time. That’s long enough to probably, I don’t know how the IUCN makes these decisions. You both probably know better than I do. But it wouldn’t be crazy to say, you know, I think this isn’t out here anymore.

Sam Mynhardt  13:03

Yeah, so based on the IUCN seriously, the IUCN would classify something as extinct, if it has not been seen for more than I think it’s more than two generations of its lifetime, in spite of exhaustive searches for the species. So even though this far exceeds, you know, a couple of generations of golden mole’s lifetime, they haven’t really been exhaustive searches that can qualify as exhaustive and so for that reason, it was listed only as possibly extinct.

Kayla Fratt  13:40

Gotcha. That makes sense. Go ahead.

Esther Matthew (EM)  13:41

Yeah, I just wanted to add, so the species was also appeared on the rewild list of top five lost species, and we received some seed funding to go look for the species because of that. So the whole project was started about around the rewild list of lost species. And this one was the only one listed in South Africa. And so we partnered with them to do the first surveys for looking to see if the species is lost. So I think that’s important to note as well.

Kayla Fratt  14:14

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Do you remember off the top of your head? What else was on that list?

Esther Matthew (EM)  14:20

No, I can’t recall. I know there was a Madagascan, I think, chameleon on there, like, yeah, you’ll have to Google it, they update it. So it used to be global conservation. What was its name before conservation, got something like that and they re-branded to re:wild. And so they have the I don’t know if you know them while they’re a US-based company. Okay. So they have this top 25 list and if a specie gets read covered then they replace it with another loss. So the sentence will now be replaced on the list with with another species but like I said it was the only South African one. But they are quite a few. I know this from chameleons to some insects and other other things on the lists.

15:18

Okay, yeah, I’m seeing we’ve got the top 25 most wanted list. Their website is a little bit tricky to navigate because I keep clicking on that link and then not finding list. There we go. And we’re going to do an ologies-esqu aside. We’re going to just read these really quick because this is really cool. So we’ve got the cat the fat cat fish, which was last seen in 1957 in Colombia; the togo mouse which was last in in 1890, in Togo slash Ghana; the dwarf hutia, which was last seen in 1937 in Cuba; the South Island Kokako, which was last seen in 2007 in New Zealand. The blanco blind salamander was last seen in 1951 in Texas, USA; Fagilde’s trap door spider was last seen before 1931 in Portugal, but has been found. Then we’ve got the big Puma fungus, which was last seen in 1988 in South America, it does not list to the country. Then we’ve got the Pernambuco Holly, which was last in 1838 in Brazil and has been found as of 2023. We’ve got Attenborough’s long beaked Echidna, which was last seen in 1961 in Indonesia. Did y’all know that ehidnas were found in Indonesia?! I thought echidnas were just Australia, that’s very exciting. They were found in 23. And then we’ve got the eye Ilin Island cloud runner, which sounds very cool. They were found, or they were last seen in 1953. In the Philippines, they’ve not been found yet. Then we’ve got the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo which was last seen in 1928. In Indonesia. I am learning a lot of things about the wildlife and of Indonesia right now that is very cool. They have not been found yet. We’ve got de Winton’s golden mole, which we are hearing about right now. They were found in 2023, after not being seen since 1936, in South Africa. Then there’s missed wall Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, which was last seen in 1978 in Cote d’Ivoire. And they have not been found yet. Then there’s the Namdapha Flying Squirrel, which was last seen in 1981 in India. We’ve got the Himalayan quail, which was last seen in 1876 in India; New Zealand greater short tailed bat was last seen in 1967, and you guessed it New Zealand. There’s a scarlet Harlequin Toad, which was last seen in 1990 in Venezuela that’s a little bit more recent, maybe there’s some hope. The pink headed duck which was a great subject of the book When Agnes Caws, which is a book that I read as a child, last seen in 1949 in India. Wellington’s solitary coral was last seen in 2000 in the Galapagos; bullneck seahorse was last collected in 1996 from Australia; Omiltemi Cottontail Rabbit was last seen in the early 1900s in Mexico; the pondicherry shark was last seen in 1979 in India; the syr darya shovelnose sturgeon was last seen in the 1960s in Kazakhstan. The sinu parakeet was last seen in 1949 in Columbia; zugs’ monitor was seen in 1980 in Indonesia, and that is our whole list. Yeah, okay. So yeah, and I think it was always really important to mention, you know, how collaborative these efforts are. And, you know, I’m sure that’s what re:wild is hoping when they put together these lists is that it garners enough interest, and then someone funds it, and then you all come in with, you know, eDNA and detection dogs, like what a dream team for trying to find a lost species like this. So yeah, huge thanks. If you want to give your your funder a shout out, that’s great as well, we’d love to applaud them here. But why don’t we start? Yeah, kind of how long ago did this start? And what was the plan for going forward with finding these these last moles?

Esther Matthew (EM)  18:59

Sam, do you want to go? Or do you want?

Sam Mynhardt  19:02

I can. We we started off, as Esther mentioned, with seed funding from re:wild. And that was back in 2021. So back then we, we started off with a pilot study to the West Coast just to test to trial, a number of methods. So we were looking into a number of potential methods for searching for Golden moles, including environmental DNA, including the same detection dogs, and we were also using thermal drones at that time to see if we could pick up thermal signatures under the sand. And that also showed some promise, but basically, at the end of the day, our pilot study that we conducted, we focused on a site where we knew they were golden moles. So this was not a potential de Winton site. This was a site where we knew they were golden moles and and we trialed our methods and we took back some of the soil samples and I sequenced those, and we confirmed that the method was working. And we were able to detect the Grant’s golden mole in those samples, which is the species that we know was distributed there. And then later in was it also in 2021, or 2022? So I think it was in 2022. We did our main expedition up the west coast where we collected samples from multiple different different sites that were potentially potentially part of the distribution of the Winton’s golden mole, but also not only to survey for for the Winton’s, but to survey for all golden moles and see what we detected all these different sites. So yeah, the scent detection dog was integral. Esther can tell you more about that in helping us to actually find them. And yeah, and then the eDNA proved really successful in helping us to identify what species it was, you know, once we had found the golden or tunnels, we could then sequence that DNA and identify the species.

21:03

Yeah, that’s a that’s a really cool approach. So you basically you went to areas where someone had seen these tunnels, you knew that there were some golden moles, but you didn’t know what species? Or did you know that there was a different species that was more common there. And D, we’re hoping that there were also some de Winston’s around, or a little bit about.

Sam Mynhardt  21:19

We knew the common species were along the west coast, but we didn’t know, for example, where the various different species might occupy different ecological niches along the coastline, and that we might pick up these crypto Clora species. So de Winton’s falls in the genus cryptochloris. And there’s another threatened cryptochloris species, Vn Zyl’s  golden mole, we were hoping to detect either or both of those along the West Coast, in addition to the more abundant species that we [inaudible].

21:50

Gotcha, very cool. Yeah. How does eDNA work in a climate that’s kind of this dry? He said, it’s kind of dry, loose, sandy soil. I always think of eDNA as something that you know, works pretty well in wetlands, taking water samples, that sorts of things that I’m very far from an eDNA expert. But yeah, how can this dry climate?

Sam Mynhardt  22:11

That’s an excellent question. Because it’s, it’s something that is a major challenge when working with soil samples with eDNA from soil because eDNA is, is quite commonly now extracted from water samples, as you’ve mentioned, and that’s, you know, it’s quite a robust and now, almost commonly used approach to detecting species. But from soil samples, the soil, the type of substrate, as well as the environmental conditions play a big role in how long the DNA would be preserved in the soil for And so fortunately, with golden moles, because they burrow beneath the surface of the soil, as opposed to animals that walk on the surface of the soil, we don’t need to collect the soil lying right on the surface, because the soil live on the surface is exposed to the elements it’s exposed, particularly to warmer temperatures and UV, which all of which break down DNA in the soil. Whereas the tunnels that run beneath the surface of the soil, it’s slightly cooler. Add to that the fact that the golden mole is in constant direct contact with the linings of that tunnel and so it’s it you know, there’s a higher concentration of its DNA in the linings of those tunnels than they would be in the surrounding soil. So we could focus you know, on collecting soil from the linings of those tunnels and changing the DNA from that so golden moles really were almost like what you could say an ideal species for a soil DNA as well as vertebrate eDNA study.

23:49

Okay, well yeah, that’s really helpful as far as describing the eDNA and everything. Oh, yeah. Why don’t we start out let’s talk a little bit about the dog or dogs that were involved in this project and I’m particularly interested in starting out with what samples you were training the dogs on because yeah, as we’ve said, we’ve got 180 year old museum specimen that does not sound like an ideal situation for training scent dogs.

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Esther Matthew (EM)  24:14

Yes, so you are right we had to get really creative with this project because we did not have access to any of the scent because the museum specimen was also preserved in ethanol or preservative so really, really, really not gonna work. So what we did is, I trained Jessie which was also the same dog that we did riverine rabbit work with, and the Blue Frog work before that. We trained her to help help us find golden mole burrows, but how we did how we went about it is we use the sent from grant’s golden mole, which is the more common species is that we actually could get fresh from just as a starting point. So that, you know, she kind of has idea what what she’s looking for even though it’s not the exact target and, and the species likely have a drift different smell to them. Like Samantha said, the the burrows can disappear if there’s wind, when there’s not enough moisture, the visible burrows will disappear. And that’s why we fall on scent detection immediately. Because even even if it’s not visual anymore, that’s where the dogs shine. Yeah. So we trained Jessie on Grant’s golden Mole. And then every time we found burrows, we would collect soil samples. And so what was interesting, the first time we went to the de Winton site, the burrows were actually really obvious. They were quite, it was on a beach. So there was a lot of moisture. And the borrowers were very obvious to us, and Jessie refused indicate. So we immediately looked at each other, and were like, well, why does she not want to indicate here because it obviously there are golden moles here. And so, that already gave us a clue that it was not Grant’s. So she was sensitive enough to to not want to indicate on those borrows. So we already got a bit excited. And then obviously we took soil samples, they and Samantha confirmed that it was de Winton so. So we kind of thought what made it interesting is we use the opposite opposite. Only use to find find them all, by by training on the common species. And when the dog did not indicate we knew that it was not one of the common species. So that was quite useful then then.

27:03

Yeah. Oh, that’s so cool. Yeah, what a funny little twist, I imagined that wouldn’t work. Generally, you know, if we think about, like Nick Rudder’s work with the stoneflies down in Australia, they they did some work to help the dogs learn to generalize from a common species to a less common species, we’ve talked about it in a science highlight, you’re not in you know, this, but just in case anyone else was not familiar. And they were able to get the dogs to generalize to a really endangered species. And that’s something you would really need for something like a stone fly, where you’re not going to see it. And you really need the dogs help finding a brother this case, you can actually see the burls. And then the fact that Jessie was like, I don’t know if that’s, that’s that’s not my thing. That’s not what I’m interested in right now. That gave you a clue. That’s really neat. And then were you able to get her to generalize to find other areas? Or what were kind of your next steps from there?

Esther Matthew (EM)  27:57

Yeah. So later on, when we obviously found and confirmed that that was the sentence, we added that to her library of saints to look for, which made it more easy going forward. But yeah, we really thought that was quite interesting, because we we just wanted to give her something to get started with. And we kind of assumed because they look very similar that they they could be a component that’s similar in grants and the rentals. But obviously, the st was so different that she she did not want to indicate on them in the beginning so that

28:31

Did she tend to be a pretty specific dog?

Esther Matthew (EM)  28:37

Well, for riverine rabbits we trained to to ignore the other hare, the other lagomorph species. Hare’s and rabbits. But yeah, so she didn’t. She wasn’t specific as in individual-specific, but she was trained to be species-specific to some extent. And I think that is why and because we had limited scent for this project as well, you, you can’t really generalize if you don’t have enough samples to do that. And and so I think that surprised us, but in the end, that was actually quite a useful behavior to observe in her.

Kayla Fratt  29:14

Yeah. Yeah. That’s such a cool yeah. Again, such a cool kind of unexpected way to deal with that. Yeah. Well, and I have, you know, I’ve got my two dogs and I can imagine niffler I think would do the same thing. He he’s a very literal little guy. He’s like, Oh, you trained me on dehydrated poobah Scott and this one is fresh. I don’t think you weren’t this needs a little bit more help going from laboratory lab training and predict to wild samples he just doesn’t make those logical leaps randomly. Versus Barley is absolutely a gambler. Like, Barley, if you don’t do a lot of really intentional work to get him to just focus on one species, he will find you everything and the environment. Which can be really nice, as long as you can keep him in the right category. But it also can definitely have some downsides. So yeah.

Esther Matthew (EM)  30:10

So with Jessie, what was interesting is we originally also trained her on roadkill scent for the rabbits. And she was, she was able to make that connection to the live species. But then we’ve seen something similar. And maybe that can be another talk. But with the succulent plant poaching, we’ve trained three dogs. And again, one of the dogs on is very generalized into any plants in a vehicle, versus the other two are only going for succulent plants that are that they’ve been trained on. So it is interesting that the different dogs also, you know, have these different ways of what they think we want to, to know from them. And then it is two different trainers. So that’s also quite an interesting. Yeah, interesting thing to observe.

Kayla Fratt  31:02

Yeah, it’s so that’s one of the things that I find endlessly fascinating in this line of work is just, you know, I can even you know, with my two dogs like, Okay, I am the same trainer. But that doesn’t mean I’m the same trainer in every moment with them. And like, you know, I first started training Barley seven years ago. And now Niffler is my second dog. And he’s got a lot smaller scent repertoire. So he also might just have less experience in how to generalize. But he does also, like there’s just big personality differences between the two of them, like I’ve been working on. Now we’re just we’re, we’re, we’re spinning off a little bit, but I’ve been working on getting them to wait at the door, so that I can release Niffler out first into the backyard, and then Barley, because if I release Barley first than Barley waits at the door of bark at Niffler’s face. And they kind of play through it. But it’s like one of those situations where it’s like, one of these days, you’re gonna hurt each other. We’re not going to do this. Niffler, it took like a week of me practicing this for him to just go to the front door and sit and wait. And he will wait. He will look at me and just wait for me to release him. And he wants so badly to be right. And I know I’m anthropomorphizing. But that’s just the best way to describe it. Versus Barley. Barley is 10 years old, Barley has known downstairs for nine years. Every single time we go to the back door, I have to cue him to sit a couple times, I have to remind him to wait a couple of times. And he just like it is so much harder for him. And some of that is certainly personality. And you know, again, I was a better trainer with niffler than I was with when I first got barley. But it’s definitely just a big difference in their personalities that is consistent not just across set stuff. Big big diversion, but yeah.

Esther Matthew (EM)  32:59

No, it’s it’s definitely and like you said as well with Jessie,  when we started with the bullfrog stuff I was inexperienced as well. So I feel also with with the new dogs, I am a little bit more prepared. And and you know, I probably give them a better opportunity to to perform better. We’re in the first case it was also a different type of scenario, because Jessie and I was we were learning together, which made our bond a lot stronger, as well. But but now I feel I’m giving the dogs a better, better chance based on what I’ve learned over the last 10 years on with Jessie so yeah, it is it is different. And each dog is different and how they present to you what they found and what they think is right. And like you said, keeps it interesting.

33:54

Yeah, yeah, it would be nice if it was a little easier to get to have some consistency. I’m in all of these, I’m in my first year of my PhD, Sam, I don’t think you know this. And I’m in all of these classes right now that are focusing on like open data and data sharing and making your studies repeatable and like setting things up so that they fit nicely into meta analyses and these sorts of things. And I just keep sitting in these classes thinking about detection dogs and being like God, yeah, it would be really nice if I could just, you know, put in a model number and you know, the software version used for my detection dogs. And I could have like half of a line that would allow someone to go in and repeat the study with a Niffler versus a Barley. But yeah, there’s there’s just not a great way to do that with detection dogs, and it’s endlessly frustrating for so so many reasons, but also it’s what keeps Esther and I employed, so I’m not going to complain about it too much.

Esther Matthew (EM)  34:56

No, for sure. I can’t agree more.

Kayla Fratt  34:59

Yeah, Well, okay, so now we’ve found at least one beach, where are these moles are still persisting. What are kind of the plans going forward for these guys? Do we know if there are other areas where they’re still persisting? Or is it really pretty limited still on what we know and what, where they’re at?

Esther Matthew (EM)  35:20

I think, Sam, if you want to jump in here again?=

Sam Mynhardt  35:26

Sure. Yeah, we our initial study did, we did detect them at additional sites. So we found, we found the actual moles on this beach in Port Angeles, called McDougall’s Bay. And so that was a really exciting find to find the actual animals there. But the Edna did detect the presence at additional sites as well. So we we have yet to confirm presence at those sites to actually find the actual animals. But also to conduct further surveys based on the sites that we have found them back now and try to kind of define what the distribution is. But not only to define the distribution, but more importantly, to find sites where there’s really viable habitat that we can still partake, so that we can try to focus conservation efforts on conserving the available habitat. That’s, that’s still there for them to to ensure the survival. So that’s, that’s what we’re currently pursuing now is just where are they really potentially large sites with good intact habitats? Where we have detected presence?

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Kayla Fratt  36:41

Yeah, definitely. And are you planning on getting any of the other detection dogs trained up on this to help out? Or is this going to be kind of eDNA looking for the burrows? What? What are the next steps as far as finding them?

Esther Matthew (EM)  36:58

Send you on returns. Yeah, I think at this stage, Sam can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s at this stage plot plans to use the detection dogs going forward. Probably more eDNA and human surveys. And then in a bigger conservation goal here is to protect these areas that we’ve already identified. So we are working on putting up signage, awareness, signage, and, and some rules and regulations around sites and working with landowners. So the beach, for example, is a public beach. So you know, people go there, there’s lots of letter before walk their dogs off leash day, which is also one of the threats to the US more than more so. So for now, we trying to create a bit more awareness and and try to reduce the threats for for the areas that we have now confirmed their presence. And maybe going forward, if we want to expand our searches, then we’ll look at training dogs again, we still don’t have a lot of scent available, which is still part of the problem. So I think in the meantime, if we do find more, we’ll probably start banking some sent in in case we want to use the dogs in future again.

Kayla Fratt  38:24

Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, it would be nice if they I don’t know if these are I don’t know much about moles. It turns out up, do they? Like do they tend to use like a latrine area of their burrows? Is there anything like that, that? That seems like it would be convenient if it existed as far as the dogs go, but also, it sounds like the end, Edna is working really well. And the dogs were helpful, but you know, you don’t necessarily have to go through all that process right now.

Sam Mynhardt  38:53

So we know so little about Golden moles. So even though you know, some of the species have been studied relatively well, there is variation between them. And so that they have been alike. But it is difficult, it’s possible that I’ve missed them, you know, or that they do that in a particular area. And we just haven’t found, you know, we we were at the wrong part of the they just they really are still quite understudied. And we don’t know. You don’t know. Yeah, yeah, definitely. But yeah, just follow on what he was saying. I think, you know, the dogs are such a valuable part of, of searching for elusive species, and we don’t, we don’t want to lose that. And we don’t want you know, the value of that to be. So I think definitely, we would continue using the dogs to search for all the moles when it comes to, you know, expanding our understanding of where the distributions are. And as he also mentioned a moment our focus is just really on conserving what, what we do have, so now that we know that there Yeah, definitely focus our energy on the actual conservation on the ground.

Esther Matthew (EM)  40:06

Yes. And I think the reason why I said maybe, maybe not now, obviously, you know, we’ve, we’ve lost Jessie, too. So it will, we’ll have to restart with a new dog. And, and we do have other projects with the current dogs at the moment. So, so we have quite a few new projects on tortoises and helping to fight the the succulent poaching problem in South Africa at the moment. And so our resources are spread a bit thin and, and like you said, in this case, it in a is a valuable to an already giving us a lot of the information that we need. So I think it’s not because the dogs didn’t work well, it’s more that we need them in other spaces at the moment more, more than we need them for this project.

Kayla Fratt  40:58

Yeah, definitely. And I think we always we do try to find places to highlight on this show as well, the times where, you know, I think this highlights really well, you know, your dogs are busy, you’re busy. And there are other methods that work really well and make more sense in this particular situation. And I think I like to highlight those situations really clearly on the show, because we do spend, you know, an hour every other week talking about all the ways that conservation dogs are amazing. And I don’t, we’re not undermining that in any way. But we do want to make it clear that they’re not the silver bullet for every single conservation problem problem, they are at best part of these really amazing teams. And in some situations, they’re not, they’re just not the right tool that doesn’t say anything about like, the quality of the dogs or whether or not they’re useful in the future. But you know, sometimes it’s just not the right next step to take or yeah, as you said, you know, especially if you’ve got all these dogs trained on other things that you’ve lost the one dog that didn’t know this thing like, exactly exist on point doing it just for the sake, like you don’t have to do it just for the sake of doing it.

Esther Matthew (EM)  42:15

Yes. And like you said, actually, in almost all of our projects, we don’t use the detection dogs as the only method. You know, for rabbits, we use it in combination with camera trapping, and and for other projects. So what we’ve realized with this project is that dogs and eDNA make a good combination. So like you said, Samantha and I saw like a dream team, because yeah, we’re doing the same for for the tortoise, the endangered tortoise species that we’re working on. Now, we using the combination of not only foot surveys with humans, but then also dogs and eDNA as a package deal to get done what we need to do.

Kayla Fratt  43:03

Yeah, definitely. No, I think it is it always is just such a team effort and conservation dollars are stretched so thin. That. Yeah, we really just need to be careful as far as thinking through what are the best options here? And how do we prioritize our time, our dogs time, donor government, taxpayer dollars, all of that? Well, I think we should probably start wrapping up here. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about these golden moles, about upcoming projects about if you’ve got favorite stories from the field, anything like that, feel free to share now.

Esther Matthew (EM)  43:37

I think for me, like in terms of this project, I think we were just, it was really cool to be part of a rediscovery. And we were really nice team. We were for four people and Jessie and I think we were the best combination of people together to solve this mystery, if I can say it like that. And and yeah, I think it’s it’s it was quite a rare experience. And it was quite something probably that we’ll never experience, again, is finding something that’s been missing for over 80 years. And for me that that was quite, quite special.

Kayla Fratt  44:18

Yeah, yeah. That is really, really neat. I mean, yeah, and obviously shivers.

Esther Matthew (EM)  44:23

And obviously to have Jessie with me at that time was was even better. Made it even better.

Sam Mynhardt  44:29

I mean, I can echo that as well, that it was, you know, really a fun and exciting project to be a part of it was great being part of such a dynamic team. And yeah, and exciting to have made the discovery and we’ve been just really overwhelmed with the response to that story. So that’s very humbling to just see the response. And I think it’s been really great for the public to receive a story like this a positive story that’s positive conservation story as well. And yeah, I mean, I hope that we’ve managed to raise awareness about Golden moles I’ve my eyes have opened as to how little people know about golden moles. I always knew that people know, generally that they’re not well known. But most people really are, have said, well, it’s the first time I’m even hearing about a golden or what even is that? So it’s been nice to just raise awareness about them. And I hope that people will now be aware and conscious and, and will just realize how, how cool they are as a species, because there’s multiple species as a family out for them and, and help to conserve them.

Sam Mynhardt  45:41

And also, you know, I hope that people will reach out, and already we’ve seen so many people with with the exposure that the story got, a lot of people have reached out and sent us photos and said, “Oh, we found a golden mole. Is this your species that you’re looking for?” So that’s also really great is when the public is getting involved and getting excited. Yeah, just just really nice to to have had the chance to raise awareness. And obviously, we hope that we would have raised awareness as well with potential funders, and that’s that it will gain exposure and in the right ways, for, you know, to secure the future of the species.

Kayla Fratt  46:20

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. We’re all while rooting forever, this little iridescent golden mole we, yeah. Well, yeah. So yeah, why don’t we close out with, you know, I know, we’ve already said where you both work, but let’s remind people and if there’s anywhere that they can go to learn more about your programs and stay in touch, just let the listeners know about that.

Sam Mynhardt  46:44

As well, we both work for the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Drylands Conservation Program, and I am the Drylands Conservation researcher for the research conservation research side of our project.

Esther Matthew (EM)  47:00

Yes, I think like Sam mentioned, the EWT website, it’s www.ewt.org.za. That has, it features all 13 programs that the Endangered Wildlife Trust is in involved with and we are part of the Drylands Conservation Program. I also do some work under the Conservation Canine Unit Program, which is a different section of Endangered Wildlife Trust. And, you know, we work on multiple species and, and with both multiple dogs and habitat and species conservation. So there’s, there’s a lot online and also, obviously, on Facebook and Instagram as well. I will have to share the handles with you because we had to change or EWT had to change the Instagram handle because it was hacked. I’m just not sure. I think it’s just I think it’s just @EWT where it was Endangered Wildlife Trust before. So yeah, we got hacked and had to purchase it back, which we couldn’t afford any way to do so. So we had to, we’ve lost almost all our followers. So we trying to build back our Instagram account as well. So if people want to go follow and share them, that would be great. But yeah, that’s I think, all from me. I don’t know if there’s anything else you want me to say?

Kayla Fratt  48:27

No, I think that’s perfect. And yeah, so for everyone else at home, definitely go ahead and give EWT a follow and help them rebuild after hacking. Gosh, that’s so stressful. And thank you so much for listening. I hope that as always, you’ve learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find shownotes, donate to K9Conservationists, join our Patreon, or sign up for a self study online handler course all at K9Conservationists.org. Until next time!