Using Dogs to Count Critically Endangered African Rabbits with Esther Matthew

Today I have the joy of talking to Esther Matthew about training conservation dogs for a critically endangered lagomorph. Read Esther’s full bio at the bottom of the show notes and see some photos of her, the riverine rabbits, and her dog Jessie.

Key Takeaways:

  1. There are opportunities for using conservation detection dogs in concert with other technology, including thermal imaging, e-DNA, and camera traps
  2. Use of roadkill can be a crucial technique in helping conservation detection dogs build a foundation with critically endangered wildlife species
  3. Conservation detection dogs may develop specificity best when other scents are used in concert with the primary scent.

Questions answered by Ester:

  • What was the goal of this study?
  • What other measures had been attempted?
  • Why did you have to use roadkill?
  • How did you measure specificity?
  • Can you describe the 3 phases of the study?
  • Some other trainers hesitate to use off-target species in proofing for training, which always seemed odd to me. You decided to use negative targets in training here. Can you explain why and what results you got?
  • You didn’t reward on unconfirmed hides. Did you do any training to help prepare the dog for the variable reinforcement? How did the dog respond?

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find Esther Matthew:

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K9 Conservationists Website

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Esther Matthew grew up in central South Africa and became fascinated with nature and animals at a very young age. Following High school, Esther pursued degrees in Zoology, Physiology, Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology. In 2015, Esther completed her M.Sc. in Environmental Science. As part of her studies she successfully raised and trained a scent detection dog to locate Giant African Bullfrogs (Pyxicephalus adspersus) underground. The project ignited Matthew’s interest in training canines for conservation and research.  As a result, Matthews pursued additional training with national and international professionals in the canine behavior and scent detection fields.  

Matthew joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Program (EWT-DCP) in 2016 and is currently working as their Specialist Conservation Officer, focusing on in situ Endangered species conservation and research. Esther also has a passion for sharing conservation knowledge. As such she works closely with learners from local schools, taking them into the field to teach them about nature through environmental education. Matthews coordinates the program’s volunteer project, aimed at exposing young career conservationists to field work in the Karoo.

Esther is a National Geographic Society Explorer and a highly dedicated and motivated conservationist. Esther aims to become one of the leaders in conservation canine research, because she is passionate for wildlife, conservation and research. She has an aptitude for the application of novel approaches in her work. Her enthusiasm and drive motivates other team members and her strong foundation in conservation biology allows her to lead by example. 

Full Transcript of “Using Dogs to Count Critically Endangered African Rabbits with Esther Matthew”

Kayla Fratt (KF)  00:08

Hello and welcome to the K9 conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every other week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I run K9 conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data. Today I have the joy of talking to Esther Matthew, about training conservation dogs for a critically endangered Lagomorphs. Esther grew up in central South Africa and became fascinated with nature and animals at a really young age. Following high school she pursued degrees in zoology, physiology, biodiversity and conservation ecology. In 2015, she completed her master’s in environmental science, and as part of her study, she successfully raised and trained to scent detection dog to locate Giant African bullfrogs underground. The project ignited Matthews is interest in training canines for conservation and research. As a result, she pursued additional training with national and international professionals in the canine behavior and scent detection fields. Matthew joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust dryland conservation program in 2016, and is currently working as their specialist conservation officer focusing on in situ endangered species conservation and research. Esther also has a passion for sharing conservation knowledge. As such, she works closely with learners from local schools taking them into the field to teach them about nature through environmental education. Matthews coordinates the program’s volunteer project aimed at exposing young career conservationists to fieldwork in the Karoo. Esther is a National Geographic Society explorer and is a highly dedicated and motivated conservationist, Esther aims to become one of the leaders in conservation canine research because she’s passionate for Wildlife conservation and research. She has an aptitude for the application of novel approaches and her work, her enthusiasm and drive motivates other team members and her strong foundation in conservation biology allows her to lead by example. Holy cow, guys, I’m so excited to share this interview with you I had so much fun talking to Esther and she’s really, she is so knowledgeable and it has so much to share but first, I have to remind you that our field vehicle repair fundraiser is ongoing. As I record the van is in. It has had its exploratory surgery, we know what’s wrong, we know how much it’s going to cost. It’s going to be a lot but it’s it is less and not as bad as we originally expected. So in the meantime, while we’re hoping to be able to pick up the van soon and get our feet wet with our field season this year, you can support the fundraiser in any way you can even if all you can do is share the link, you can find that link in the show notes. So let’s get on to the interview with Esther. Thanks so much for coming on Esther. Let’s start out with the most important topic here. Tell us a little bit about your dog and let us get to know her a little bit before we dive into the actual interview.

Esther Matthew (EM)  02:57

Okay, cool. Um, so yeah, the dog I used, her name is Jessie, she’s a border collie. She comes from working sheep dog parents. So both of her parents work with sheep and yeah, I got her at the age of six months, and she’s turning eight years old this year. So she’s been doing scent work, all her life long basically. So we started working with her with Bullfrog scent as part of my master’s study. We did some Amphibian Research, and then I joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust and subsequently trained on river and rabbits as well.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  03:46

Awesome. Yeah. So she’s about the same age. It’s funny. Having read your paper, I assume she was a lot younger because, yeah, you talked about how you acquired her. She’s about the same age as my dog Barley, who’s also a Border Collie.

Esther Matthew (EM)  04:00

Okay, cool. Yeah, so she is around, she’s walking around here as well. But she published the same. This year, I published the research on amphibians as well in the same journal for the special edition. So that was when she was three or four years old and now the Lagomorphs research was now more recently.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  04:27

Gotcha. Yeah, we might have to circle back and do another episode with you about the bullfrog. I’d love to hear more about it.  So let’s start. Let’s kind of zoom out a little bit and talk about this Lagomorphs study. What was the goal of the study and how did that impact what you were doing as far as training the dog, Jess?

Esther Matthew (EM)  04:50

Okay, so, basically, what happened is I joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust and our research focuses on the career environment and the endangered species that occur in the environment and so the critically endangered riverine rabbit is one of the most endangered mammal species, I think top 13 in the world if I don’t have it incorrectly.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  05:18

Oh, my goodness.

Esther Matthew (EM)  05:19

Yeah. So the numbers for them are completely unknown, actually, at the moment, and their habitats decreasing at a at a huge rate. So we started working to find out exactly where the distribution is. So also checking historical sightings do they still occur there because we they were found originally in 1901, they don’t occur anymore, as well as the second location where they were found. So the research entails basically finding Riverine rabbits, the very elusive species, very great at camouflaging, and they are excellent at hide and seek games. So yeah, that was, that was kind of another study started. We did use other methods before, which included food surveys, making a lot of noise trying to flush the rabbits to see if you can find them and then also, we do use still use camera traps, as well to monitor the species and detect the presence but both of these techniques, the foot surveys, presented a lot of logistical problems and even if a rabbit then does not jump up, you don’t know if you’ve missed them, or if they actually are not present in the environment and camera traps are really good at finding Riverine rabbits, but it’s a very time consuming process and we can’t cover huge areas. It sorry, thats Jessie in the background as well. We can’t cover huge areas with camera traps. So basically, we looked at Jessie as a rapid detection method for finding this species.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  07:12

Yeah, exactly. And that was actually my next question was what other methods have been attempted? And what were what were the challenges with those? So you know the drill here, you know exactly where we were going, yeah, I know, I was just reading a paper the other day that said with this was bobcats, I believe in the US. It took seven to eight weeks for camera traps to detect or confirm Bobcat presence, and the dog was able to do that work in I think two days. So it’s just at least in that particular study that particular target species it you know, it’s just so much faster. So, then you actually trained Jessie with roadkill rabbits, right? Why did we go that route? Or, you know, what are some of the considerations you’re making when you’re using a dead animal and hoping to have the dog find the live animal.

Esther Matthew (EM)  08:05

So that was the biggest challenge of this study and actually, many trainers told me it was not doable to train a dog we’ve seen from the dead animal to find the live animal but that was our only option in this case. So Riverine rabbits because they’re so endangered, there’s none of them in captivity at all and we’re also not allowed to catch them because of the status so we aren’t allowed to handle them can’t even collect sdent from one so the only source of scent was roadkill unfortunately. So that that did bring its own challenges. And so that is what makes the study unique and that is why we wanted to publish this research just to show that it may take a bit longer but it is in the case of really elusive and really endangered species that you could potentially use some some scent like roadkill to train the dog on. So what we did is we collected first samples as well as skin swabs from road kills and to kind of to help the dog to ignore the other scents such as the scent from the car that hit it, and the person who handled it and so on. We would do scent lineups. I think in the paper there is a picture of the equipment we use. We will then put from different road kills samples within the lineup and reward for that in that way we could teach Jessie to find something that’s similar in the samples and ignore then the rest so you can kind of fine tune what you’re looking for by rewarding for all of the different samples which helps to ignore the components that are not relevant to the specific animal. So yeah, roadkill is obviously not the ideal thing to go for but unfortunately that is the only thing we have to.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  10:13

Yeah, that’s so my dog and I have worked on black footed ferrets, which are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and our initial training, there was also done on basically freeze dried ferret parts, because they do have captive breeding programs, luckily for the black footed ferrets and so yeah, we had, we had like these baggies that had ferret paws and ferret pelts and those sorts of things that, you know, they definitely weren’t perfect and we did have the opportunity before deploying the dogs to train them on live ferrets that had been bred in captivity, and were about to be released, which I know you similarly had kind of a final step to help the dog to help Jessie moved from the, from on to that live rabbit. So why don’t we talk a little bit about how that happened, as you started moving towards actually deploying with her.

Esther Matthew (EM)  11:07

Yeah, so your correct with saying that, so we started with a very controlled environment. So that’s where the training equipment came in the scent lineups, etc, to fine tune Jessie’s nose into the target species and then after that, we went to that in the article, it’s referred to as phase two, we went outside of which in the beginning, was just a general someone’s backyard type of training and then two more, we had a site that was had the same components as the natural environment, but was a camping area with that definitely did not have rabbits in but had the, the fragrances of the vegetation. So in this area, the bushes that occur with a rabbit is quite vibrant and fragrant, which could be a big distraction. So we started just going outside, adding, like environmental factors, and then moving to areas that are more the same to the components that you would get in a real life situation and then for the last phase, we took her to a site where we confirmed the presence of Riverine rabbits with camera traps. So we know we knew they were going to be there and that we could potentially encounter them but then we would still hide scents up for Jessie to find and then when when a real Riverine rabbits was encountered, we will then reward at the spot where jumped up for indicating them and that’s making that switch between the center she’s been trained on and the live animal. Obviously, after I’ve confirmed that it is the correct species.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  13:01

Yeah, yeah, there are a lot of other rabbit species in the area that could be confusing for you as a handler. To confirm.

Esther Matthew (EM)  13:09

Yeah, so so we get these. Yeah, hares and rabbits that overlap with the Riverine rabbits. So it’s very important that the person we had volunteers that would go with, because I had to reward Jessie as well, in the same time, just as an extra pair of eyes to confirm that it is the correct species, because obviously you don’t want to reward if it’s, if not your target species and that’s also why we decided to if we weren’t able to confirm that we would not rather not reward then reward for for something that it is not.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  13:50

Yeah, yeah and that seems like it’s really pretty standard in this industry is if you can’t confirm it, you’re generally not rewarding, which, you know, I think in most of these situation makes a lot of sense. So because it sounds like basically what the goal was, is you’re moving around and potentially flushing the rabbits and Jessie is alerting to that spot. Did you have her on a long line or what sorts of safety measures did you have in place to make sure that because I know my Border Collies while they generally have very low prey drive, they will chase things that they flush in general you can see my puppy behind me I have foster kittens right now no one else can see that but they might hear them, they do tend to chase at least. 

Esther Matthew (EM)  14:37

Yeah, so as a security measure and also because of the status of the species that we work on. We did with Jessie on initially on a 10 meter lead but the vegetation here these rabbits occur are quite thick. So we reduce that to a five meter lead which obviously makes it more difficult for her to to move around as much. So that just meant that we needed to cover more ground area to make sure that she gets the ability to get close enough to pick up on the scent of these rabbits.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  15:13

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Esther Matthew (EM)  15:15

Yeah. And then once it flush when once it flashes, then we obviously did not encourage her to chase it, but rather in encouraged her to indicate on the spot where it was last seen. So and that also helped to reduce the the chase drive.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  15:36

Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think both of my dogs and certainly my working dog if he understood that alerting got him the ball and chasing didn’t, that would is definitely do the trick for him. So it definitely comes down to getting the right dog for the job. 

Esther Matthew (EM)  15:53


Kayla Fratt (KF)  15:54

Because I’m sure listeners are hearing us talking about this. There’s like no way my dog would my dog would care about a ball or a toy around a bunny, that they’ve just flushed? 

Esther Matthew (EM)  16:05


Kayla Fratt (KF)  16:08

And so I know, one of the other questions that I had. So it’s so great. I love guests like this, where you’ve already answered a lot of the questions that I had but can we talk about how we measured specificity and ensured that we were we were in the you guys were in the right direction? For the training and project?

Esther Matthew (EM)  16:26

Yeah, so I know sometimes I’ve seen in a few articles, that specificity is defined differently and that’s why I also defined it in this papers exactly what we mean to specificity. So obviously, in our case, it was how well did Jessie find the targets and then we also looked at, if you look at figure six, we looked at species specificity. I can’t say the word species specificity, but anyway, you understand what I mean but the so that was in the case where we had scents from the other lagomorphs in the lineup. So then that was how well she would find Riverine rabbits in between the other scent. So and if you look at the results, she actually did even better when there was other scents in the room. So it was easier for her to engage on Riverine rabbits when there was other lagomorphs present, which, which kind of makes sense because the control or the negative target doesn’t smell like anything. We the hares and the other rabbits have they own this thing. So it’s much easier for her to distinguish, then maybe an empty container that potentially wasn’t washed correctly, or something was handled with content contaminated when handling or something, which obviously is things that we tried to avoid but I mean, there’s always, the possibility that you accidentally contaminated controls.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  18:09

Yeah, of course, I know. I’ve been in discussions before talking specifically about animals that use kind of latrines or multispecies latrines, where you might have, you know, urine and feces from a couple of different species in a closed area and it seems like an adult, as far as I know, there’s no one who’s published anything on this but anecdotally, it seems like some of the dogs are actually better, again, in these situations where they can compare and shop around and say, Red fox, Red fox, Coyote, Swift fox, that’s what I’m looking for. They’re actually again, kind of better when they’re able to shop around and compare and I know, Dr. Simon Gadbois, talks a lot about like signal detection theory and looking at, you know, our dog’s ability to be either really specific, or really sensitive and talking about different ways to help set up our training to move a dog’s specificity or sensitivity in a given direction, or at least selecting the right dog for the job because I know for some studies, they’d rather find every single target and maybe get a couple of non targets as well. Versus other studies maybe if your lab fees are really high, you’d rather maybe miss a couple, but only ever end up with samples that are truly correct and we’re gonna get him onto the podcast at some point to talk about that, which I’m very excited for.

Esther Matthew (EM)  19:27

Okay. Yeah, so that’s exactly the point because in our case, there is overlap in those species. So we would we we couldn’t just find any lagomorphs and then identify them, it was more important to find, Riverine rabbits. So in our case, it was important to make the search effort more precise by focusing on one species and because there’s overlap, it was necessary to add the other species if if the Riverine rabbits occured in a habitat that didn’t overlap with the other species, and we wouldn’t have trained in that way, I think.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  20:08

Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And as far as you know, the species don’t like hybridize or do anything that makes makes our lives even worse do they

Esther Matthew (EM)  20:15

No, likely not.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  20:23

I love it when they do unhelpful things like that. We’re gonna come back after a quick ad break and talk a little bit more about the training that you used and some of the results that you got in this study but first, we’ve got to hear a couple of words from our sponsors. Hey, everyone, just popping into this episode with an update on our Patreon, we still have the $3 a month doggy detector level, which allows you to ask questions for me and the guests to answer each episode but now also lets you join our monthly training video analysis calls. These calls are going to be recorded of course, and we’ll also publish the video afterwards, for everyone to view and ask questions about prior to the call to ensure that all timezones kind of participates fully. So we’ll basically publish the video we’re going to analyze so that you can ask questions and view it and prepare it ahead of time, then we’ll have the call where we talk about it, we can have beverages, it’ll be a good time and then all of that is going to be shared later. So you can participate before, during and after again, just for three bucks a month. Now at the $10 a month sensational scientist level, you get everything that we got before the $3 level. Plus you get to submit videos of your training sessions for those calls. So this is perfect for the aspiring canine conservationist. And your target odor doesn’t really matter here as long as you do communicate what it is, so we can think intelligently about your goals. So this is going to be great for nosework competitors and other canine handlers as well and we’re really striving to make these video calls super kind and supportive and helpful. So it’s going to be a nice safe place on the internet to get good feedback on your training sessions because I know how much of a struggle that can be, especially in the scentwork world. So then finally, the canine conservationist patrons get everything from those other two tiers plus a private 30 minute training call with me to go over whatever you’re running into with your dog, that tier is just 25 bucks a month and that’s cheaper than booking my time at for behavior modification and that’s just because I love you and I love my patrons, that’s definitely something to check out, you can join that Patreon over at or at the link at It’s like a tiny link up in the top bar and then we also drop that link into our show notes. So if you’re listening on your podcast app, you should be able to find it just right from there. So thank you guys so much. And let’s get back to the episode. All right, and we are back. And I really wanted to talk to you a little bit about something that I find really interesting in what you’ve done, because it makes a lot of sense to me. So I’ve heard other trainers hesitate to use off target species when they’re proofing their training and that always seems really odd to me, I’ve heard kind of the argument being, well, if you expose the dog to an off target species during training, and then they run into it in the field, that might create some flicker of recognition and they might alert to it more but again, that always seemed really odd to me, you decided to use negative targets for trading in here. Can you explain why and what the results you got were? Kind of what you saw using that method?

Esther Matthew (EM)  23:13

Yes, so we started training just with Riverine rabbits alone and just for the initial training, like I said, with the roadkill, we wanted to enable the dog to pick up on something that is similar in all the samples just to make sure that all the other contaminants are not something that she uses to find the target and then after that we added the sense of the the lagomorphs just because of the overlap and the potential of encountering them as well and I must also add that that we did get we got no false indications in the fields, even with his being encountered live during fieldwork and then also the results showed that the dog actually performed much better when the the other lagomorphs were present. So we felt it was necessary because of the overlap in habitat and the possibility of encountering the others and we wanted the dog to specifically go for the target species and not waste time on potentially indicating on another lagomorph that we’re not interested in. So that was the main reason why we added those targets. Boys.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  24:39

Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly improved off. And I think in the paper, you said that you you gave a small correction if she did show a lot of interest early on in training with them or, you know, kind of how did you approach that early on training?

Esther Matthew (EM)  24:53

No. So in the in the lineup, any incorrect indications were just ignored. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  25:01

Okay. Yeah. 

Esther Matthew (EM)  25:04

And the new reinforced on the correct indication so that obviously decreased the incorrect indications over time.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  25:15

Yeah, yeah, you would imagine. So that makes a lot of sense and then the next question I had was that you didn’t reward on unconfirmed alerts where she, she may be alerted to something and you just couldn’t confirm whether or not she was correct. Which, again, is pretty standard practice in this field. Did you do any training to help her prepare for that kind of variable reinforcement? And if so, kind of how did she respond in the field if she did make an alert, and then you weren’t able to reward her because you weren’t sure if she was correct.

Esther Matthew (EM)  25:49

So, basically, because of the reason that she could never really get to the target species, because obviously, it will jump up and run away. We had discussed the techniques, because with the bullfrogs, it was not the case. They were underground, so they wouldn’t move around and so I spoke to another trainer that works in anti-poaching as well and, and just discussed about the moving target basically, when, when it’s appropriate to reward and when do you rather ignore it? And his advice was, if I can identify it, and I can, I’ve seen the spot with stand up, then I can reward for an indication, if not, I just encourage her to move along and and ignore the indication. So that’s basically what I did. I can’t actually remember if that was ever necessary to do, I think maybe once or twice but all the other times, I could positively confirm that it was the target species. So but it was good to talk to someone with experience to see what to do with in terms of a moving target.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  27:09

Yeah, yeah. When we’ve worked with, again, with the black footed ferrets that I’ve worked with, they’re underground, and they’re primarily nocturnal. So unless you’re lucky enough to wake one up and have it chatter at you, you’re pretty much always working with unconfirmed hides are unconfirmed alerts and then what that study, what they would do is they would then go back out at night and put up a camera trap to confirm whether or not the dog was correct but we had to do all sorts of kind of pre trading to make sure that the dogs were emotionally prepared for working these really long, hard days, and then not necessarily getting rewarded when there was, you know, in all likelihood, at least some of the times those dogs were were absolutely correct. The ferrets were just so far underground and so impossible to confirm at the moment that it was a very tough study, really, really challenging stuff.

Esther Matthew (EM)  27:58

So what we did as well is initially in the field trials, just also to keep the dog motivated as well, because our chances are encountering a rabbit initially was quite low. So we would also hide some targets in the field, just to to be able to reward the dog at some point. So we would hide the target and then maybe go a day later back and search for the live rabbits and then end our route to where the target was hidden. Just to give a positive into the day and there was so so we did do that sometimes, yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  28:39

Yeah, yeah, that’s very, very wise and yeah, just so so much, so nice for the dogs and for us, I know for me, getting to reward my dog at an alert is one of my favorite parts of the job. So why don’t we kind of as we’re wrapping up here, talk a little bit about the exciting results at the end of the study when you actually feel the dog like, what ended up happening with this?

Esther Matthew (EM)  29:04

Yeah, so we were very happy to find Riverine rabbits, especially because like I said, the numbers for individuals are unknown but basically, in the six months, six month period, we’ve had over 30 sightings or finds with the dog but because we couldn’t, that you can’t identify individuals, so we consider conservatively worked on the locations where we did find them and the potential home range of a rabbit and so we decided to do say that would be at least 10 distinct individual finds. So but we had much more sightings, but it was we couldn’t could not know if it was the same individual or not. So what was also cool is that we were able to confirm a historical sightings that were more than 20 years old. So no one has searched in those areas. And then and Jessie was able to find rabbits on those sites, as well as one site way, the original study 30 years ago said, predicted that they could potentially be but no one ever went to check on that property and then Jessie was able to find one there as well. So that was some of the highlights from from the fieldwork.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  30:36

Yeah, oh, my gosh, that’s so cool and do you know, you know, are they going to be able to use the the results that you got from this study in any way to help protect this habitat or help the species out in any way in the long term.

Esther Matthew (EM)  30:50

So the study still continues, we still using Jessie find new locations, in combination with camera traps on other sites and other techniques but like I said, She’s the most rapid, rapid method. And so this also helps us the number of finds that she gets on a property, for example, can can also help indicate the population size on in an area. So what we then do is we identify priority areas, we have identified five, five potential areas in the northern population. And then we’re now working with farmers to look at formal protection for these rabbits because in so they occur in three populations and the northern population, they actually only occur on privately owned farms. So there’s no reserves or any, any form of protection from them in this area and in this specific area, their habitat use is very restricted, and the habitat available is very limited. So we are trying to see if we can work with farmers to to secure it in a more formal way. If they do have records, and then and then try to just make sure that that habitat stays intact.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  32:16

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, hopefully, hopefully, there’s kind of continued process here, progress here and it’s cool to know that you guys are still working on this together. What else? What else are you and Jessie working on? Do you have any other projects that are coming down the pipeline or anything else you want to you know, if people want to keep tabs on what you guys are up to you have such a an amazing resume and backstory, and I’m sure people will be excited to hear about where you’re going next.

Esther Matthew (EM)  32:44

Yeah, so we have two other projects in the pipeline with Jessie at the moment. Obviously, the rabbit work still has a lot of components and a lot of areas to cover still because these rabbits only occur in South Africa, but they occur in almost half of South Africa. It’s a very big region to cover. So we still have quite a bit of work with her on that but then we also are working with her to train her to find the Kuru dwarf tortoise, which is also a threatened species. So very small, almost like I don’t know, centimeters is the right way to describe them, but they are 77 centimeters is like the adult size. So it’s quite small. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  33:37

Oh my gosh, wow. 

Esther Matthew (EM)  33:39

And they’re in crevices underneath and in between rocks and stuff and rock crevices. So they’re very difficult to find and then another project that we’re more actively working on at the moment is we working with Global Wildlife Conservation. I don’t know if you know them, but they are supporting some of our work in finding two Golden Mole species on the west coast of South Africa. So it’s basically lost species project. So it will be rediscovery of the Moles and they are the ones we see hasn’t been seen in 80 years. So they either extinct, they either extinct or if we can find them then it will be a rediscovery so Jessie is helping us in finding the tunnels within the dunes. So they dune swimming Moles, so they don’t really live close, it collapses behind them. So we’re using Jessie to help us find those tunnels and then see if we can find the particular species that we’re looking for. So we’re actually going out next month with her to continue our work on that as well.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  35:00

Very cool, wow, I’m gonna have to google that species and I can’t imagine how many cool adaptations they have to make sure that they don’t get just sand everywhere if they’re getting swimming. I haven’t heard that term before. That’s fascinating.

Esther Matthew (EM)  35:13

So say we are using other other techniques as well but Jessie is as part of the study and we’re looking at using thermal drones and then also e-DNA techniques to find these moles but obviously, it helps if Jessie indicates on the tunnel to rather collect soil samples where there’s been activity then randomly collecting soil samples, so she’s also helping us point areas of activity.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  35:43

Yeah, definitely that’s so cool.  I love how it just in this this episode, we’ve talked about so many different ways that we can use dogs in conjunction with camera traps with human searchers with e-DNA, with thermal drones, there’s just there’s so many different ways to to be able to combine all these different non invasive sampling techniques to look at these incredibly hard to find species. So those are all the questions I had for you, is there anything else that you want to make sure to bring up or talk about or mentioned, as we’re wrapping up?

Esther Matthew (EM)  36:13

The only thing that I thought of is there is a video on YouTube about Jessie, it also shows the rabbit that she’s working on and we managed to get on a GoPro one of the finds. So where she goes into the bush, and the rabbit jumps out on the other side.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:31

Oh my gosh, wow. 

Esther Matthew (EM)  36:32

So I can also share that link with you if people want to see.  It also explains the other techniques that we’re using and then a little bit more about Jessie.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:41

Yes, we would definitely love that. We’ll be sure to link it in the show notes and if anyone else wants other ways to keep tabs on you, do you have social media or other ways that people can keep up on your projects on Jessie is training and everything.

Esther Matthew (EM)  36:55

Okay, so Jessie has a Facebook page. I’ll share the handles with you. It’s Jessie the Border Collie on Facebook. But it’s Jessie with IE. So Jessie and then also on on Instagram. It’s Jessie the BC and then also my handle on Instagram EstherExplorer. So if people want to follow us. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  37:28

Excellent. Yeah, we’ll make sure to link all of that in the show notes and I’ll make sure that I go ahead and give you a follow. Most excited to be able to connect more. Instagram is my love language. So thank you so much for joining. This was a lot of fun and as I said, I think we’ll we’ll probably have to reconnect to talk about the bullfrog work, because I know that’s another really interesting study you guys have been involved in and then I think our listeners would love to hear about it.

Esther Matthew (EM)  37:58

Okay, great. Yeah, that was now before for the rabbit work. So I’ll have to just make sure I get all that information together again, because it’s been quite a while because that was Jessie’s first job. So since then we’ve we’ve done a few other things, but ya know, thank you so much of all the time and to chat to us as well and it’s always nice to hear from other trainers as well and exchange tips and ideas and such.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  38:28

Yeah, likewise, this has been great. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist and whatever way suits your passions and your skill set. You can find show notes and extra information on this episode over at and support our field vehicle repairs over at our GoFundMe page which again we will have linked at Until next time, I’m Kayla Fratt. And this is the K9conservationists podcast.