Two dogs in Texas are sniffing out African land snails in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador in an effort to minimize damage by the invasive species. The canines are at the forefront of a new drive to protect the environment in one of the richest biological regions of the world.
Neville, a black dog rescued from a shelter, and a Labrador retriever named Darwin, have traveled from the Lone Star State to the popular tourist destination of Santa Cruz. This island is the location where famed naturalist Charles Darwin began his research, which led to the development of his ideas on the theory of evolution.
African land snails can grow up to 7.8 inches in length, and the species is ruining valuable crops on the island. These mollusks are considered to be one of the most destructive and highly invasive of all species on the planet. These creatures were first found on a 50-acre patch of the island in 2010. Conservationists fear that if the species spreads beyond this area, the animals could cause a degradation of the native habitat there, destroying vast numbers of crops and animals.
"Galapagos is the best-preserved tropical archipelago in the world, thanks to the vigilance of government agencies responsible for its protection. Experience has shown that once an invasive species becomes established, it is almost impossible to remove. These snails pose an immediate threat to local agriculture as well as the survival of endemic Galapagos snail species," Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy, said.
Dogs for Conservation, a group that supplies canines to programs designed to protect the environment, donated the canines to the search for invasive snails in the Galapagos.
Darwin the retriever failed out of a service dog training program, but he is proving invaluable in the search for the invasive mollusks.
"He wasn't up for being a service dog to people, but he's more than qualified to be a service dog to nature. He was trained to sniff out giant African snails and is working with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, Island Conservation, alongside his buddy Neville," Dogs for Conservation reported on its website.
Animals and plants in the Galapagos Islands once evolved in near-isolation from the outside world. With the rise of human settlers and the modern tourist trade, that is no longer the case.
These two dogs from Texas are the first canines to be brought to the Galapagos for the express purpose of tracking invasive species. The Galapagos Biosecurity Agency is planning on having additional dogs at airports and ports to identify any invasive species that could enter the island chain, potentially harming the fragile ecosystem of the island chain.
The ability of dogs to smell plant and animal life could prove to be an important tool in protecting the environment in the future.