Macca and handler, Ange Newport, are one of the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary’s lines of defence. Photo: Supplied.

Meet the team sniffing out sanctuary predators

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Macca the fox terrier, along with handler Ange Newport, have recently spent five days
scrambling all over the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary sniffing out any presence of stoats,
weasels and ferrets. We catch up with Ange to learn about the process.

How do you know the dog is onto something?

Macca ‘indicates’, where he slows down, his tail starts to wag and his ears move forward, as he starts to work the scent. He’s highly motivated to find the source of the scent so I let him work the scent and we’ll follow it as far as it will take us. When Macca gives his indication, I note the location of this is a point of interest and report this back to the manager. The sanctuary team then lays traps in that area in response, to try and capture the animal present.

It seems like a lot of land for not a lot of dog.

We have to be quite strategic about the approach, bearing in mind the scent lasts up to 36 hours, depending on environmental factors, and the dog will generally pick up scent from around 25 metres. With active searching, it’s a moving target, and our aim is to cross paths with where it has been and left its scent, over the last day or two.

Why doesn’t Macca detect rats and other predators at the same time – surely that would save time and money?

We train the dogs on specific scents – rodents, or mustelids, or feral cats for example – because the way of dealing with them is different and the people who will be following up with the trapping response need to know what they’re targeting, as different traps and lures are used to target the different animals.

How do you train the dog?

The first part of training focuses on good behaviour and obedience, working towards Interim certification, which is usually when the dog is 10- 14 months. After that we then have 6 months to train towards the full certification which tests target specification, obedience and work ethic. This is where the focus shifts to teaching the dog what you want them to find, and all the other things they need to learn to ignore.

How’s your Nelson sanctuary experience been?

It’s a brilliant habitat for the species you’re trying to encourage here. Plus, it’s great working with established tracks and trapping lines that are well set. My ankles have really appreciated the great quality of your tracks so a shout out to your volunteer track cutters.

What’s the hardest thing about the job?

I’m not home very much, so it is hard to maintain a ‘home life’. Last year I would have been home collectively about three months out of the whole year, so you have to be ok with being away a lot. The dog can go a lot of places I can’t and sometimes vice versa– you have to be careful neither of you gets stuck. We work as a team, and have a very trusting relationship, and you get very good at gauging times, and your capability as a team.