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Python Detection Dogs

Jake and Ivy are trained to detect pythons in the Everglades.

We all know that detection dogs are used for everything from drugs, to weapons, and even to cancer. Now, researchers at Auburn University in Alabama are able to use detection dogs in the Everglades National Park to locate Burmese pythons in an effort to manage and eradicate the humongous snakes that are on the loose and eating everything in sight.

Enter Jake and Ivy. These two black Labs have helped researchers capture 19 pythons, with most of the snakes being between six and eight feet in length. One of the captured pythons was pregnant with 19 eggs. The dogs were part of a multi-agency pilot program which also curbed the dogs' instincts to swim or get too close to their targets. Their training began with python-scented coffee filters and then they worked with pythons in bags. The labs also had to learn about wind currents and how trees could possibly break up the wind scent. They trained in both tall and short grass and had to learn to 'sit stay' when they were about 15 feet away from the snake's strike zone. The labs, a breed that loves the water, had to be training not to go into the water. Once the dogs detected a snake, they stopped in their tracks and crouched. The python's response to the dog was surprising. The reptile would usually curl up and hide instead of striking.

Both Jake and Ivy learned early that they would receive a reward for a job well done. Their special treat was a KONG that was filled with treats.

"The ultimate use for detection dogs is to suppress the expanding python population and to eliminate them in small areas, such as on an island. Our main concern is their impact on other wildlife," said Christina Romagosa of Auburn's School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. "Interaction with humans is also a problem. The snakes, like alligators, can get in swimming pools, eat small dogs and cats, and could injure a human." According to a nine-year study, pythons have all but wiped out marsh rabbits, opossums, and raccoons in the southern region of Everglades National Park.

Once the pilot program was over and the dogs returned to Auburn, it was noted that "the National Academy of Sciences found a correlation between the burgeoning python population in the Everglades and severe declines in mammals."