Tobias is on the job on Santa Cruz Island.
He was once a shelter dog in Montana. But, he’s now an environmental superstar. Tobias is a one of a kind “ant-dog”. He’s the only dog in the world trained to track down a specific invasive species of ant in the wild.
It’s what the three year old yellow lab is doing as he sniffs his way through some brush in a Santa Cruz Island canyon.
The National Park Service and the non-profit group, The Nature Conservancy, which owns part of the island have been trying to restore Santa Cruz Island by removing non-native species. One of the big problems is non-native Argentine ants, which wipe out native ants, and can kill bees, lizards, and even seabird chicks.
Christina Boser is a California Islands Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. She says it’s believed the ants were accidentally brought to the island years ago with along with some construction materials. She was given the job of trying of finding a way to get rid of the ants, which infested about a thousand acres of the 60,000 acre island. They developed a ten year plan funded by the state, the National Park Service, and the Nature Conservancy.
They created a low level poison bait worker ants would take back to colonies, yet would be safe for the environment. The pesticide was first tested by 2013, and was used over a four year period. Now, in 2017, the Argentine ants appear to be gone But, how do you really tell if the ants are really gone?
That’s where Tobias came into the picture. Boser says they contacted some people in New Zealand, who had trained some dogs to find ants. They then developed a program with a company which trains dogs. Four rescue dogs started the training, but Tobias was the only one to complete it. So, that’s how Tobias ended up on Santa Cruz Island, where he’s spending about three month hunting for the ants.
Handler Kai Zimmerman says he and Tobias are truly a team, because the dog needs to be able to show him when he’s found something, and he needs to be able to understand when Tobias thinks he has a hit. They periodically do retraining with some of the ants brought in for the purpose, to insure Tobias stays on track.
Even if the island is declared ant-free following the dog’s search, monitoring efforts with traps will continue for years, with the project funded through 2022. And, don’t worry about the future of Tobias. The ant sniffing dog already has his next job lined up. He, and Zimmerman will head to another of the Channel Islands, San Clemente Island, which is dealing with a 1300 acre Argentine ant infestation.