Rhode Island Zoo Working with Trained Search Dog Named Newt to Help Track and Save Turtles

Dogs at RI Zoo Help Save Turtles

Roger Williams Park Zoo

Roger Williams Park Zoo is calling on a four-legged friend to help with sea turtle conservation efforts in Rhode Island.

The zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, tells people that a one-year-old fox-red Labrador retriever named Newt is using “his incredible nose to help check out some of our local sea turtle populations.

Conservation efforts are being led by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) in partnership with Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey and the University of Rhode Island.

“He was initially trained to look for different species of toads, so we started working on turtles in the fall,” Newt’s keeper Julia Sirois told WJAR. “He had a rough start, but we’re really proud of him now because once we get into the spring they started walking around again, and he was able to pick it up quickly.”

Dogs at RI Zoo Help Save Turtles

RI Zoo Dogs Help Save Sea Turtles

Roger Williams Park Zoo
The zoo told the crowd that in addition to Sirois, Hannah Duphy and Dr. Kris Hoffman, in partnership with St. Lawrence University’s Canine Institute Training, also trained Newt.

Newt can locate turtles in areas that are not easily accessible to humans.

“He can get into areas we can’t get into. I won’t crawl through a thorn bush, but the dog doesn’t care because if he finds the turtle, he’ll get his ball,” Sirois added. “At the end of the day, that’s all he wants.”

Dogs at RI Zoo Help Save Turtles

Roger Williams Park Zoo

Scott Buchanan, DEM state herpetologist, told ecoRI News that Newt is participating in a six-week study that will help determine if dogs can help with sea turtle conservation research.

“We’re two weeks into it, and I would say we’ve been able to determine that Newt is good at finding sea turtles,” Buchanan said. “Whether Newt will end up being more proficient than a group of people conducting visual contact surveys is one of the questions we want to try to answer, and we’re developing work around that.”

He added, “Having another team take the dogs out is just an opportunity to learn more. It’s an opportunity to potentially identify new populations and learn more about existing populations.”

The zoo told the crowd that the research project aims to collect “valuable data” on Rhode Island’s sea turtle population, including activity and habitat use.

As sea turtle populations continue to decline, new conservation efforts come with them.

Lu Perotti, director of conservation programs at Roger Williams Park Zoo, told reporters, “We see a lot of sea turtle deaths this time of year, and sadly, all the females are carrying the next generation, and now unfortunately we have a poaching crisis.” WJAR.

“The future of these turtles may look bleak. I mean, we’re going to have very endangered populations, and in some cases we may lose populations,” he added.

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