VETERAN dog trainer Steve Austin gets excited each fortnight when he goes to check the mail and finds a big box of poo waiting for him.
It sounds strange but each container full of days-old cheetah droppings is another step closer towards his goal of using Australian-bred canines to save the fastest land animal on Earth.
Mr Austin has spent 12 months training two English springer spaniels to sniff out cheetah poo, known as scat, with the aim to eventually track the endangered cats in the dry savannahs of Africa.
Cheetah Conservation Fund researchers in Namibia analyse scat to assess a cheetah’s health, sex and other vital characteristics instead of using a tranquiliser dart on the animals themselves.
The trouble has been finding the scat but that’s where two-year-old springers Tiger and Billy come in.
Mr Austin has taught the Sydney dogs to sniff out cheetah scat from as far as 70m away, using droppings sent regularly from Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo. Having trained dogs to sniff out rabbits on Macquarie Island, penguins at North Head and contraband in Japanese airports, he said the springers’ keen sense of smell was vital.
“We’re going to put the dogs in the back of a ute and see if they can pick up the smell of this scat as we’re driving along, which has never been done before,” he said.