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Meet our Turtle Detection Dog

Koda, the Zoo’s “Turtle Dog,” is being trained to assist staff in locating turtles in their native habitat as part of vital conservation work to protect and bolster regionally threatened populations of turtles, particularly the locally rare eastern box turtle.

ZNE biologists currently depend on imprecise visual surveys to locate box turtles in dense woodlands. With their well camouflaged shells, human observers might step right next to a hiding box turtle without ever finding it. A dog, however, can use its highly developed sense of smell to pinpoint the turtles much more quickly and effectively. And that’s where Koda, the our Australian shepherd mix comes in.

With more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, a dog’s sense of smell is over 1,000 times greater than that of humans, making dogs like Koda a researcher’s best friend. Dogs can be trained to distinguish between different species of turtles and possibly even males and females of one species.

Koda’s trainer, Zoo New England Assistant Curator Chris Bartos, is no stranger to this line of work. Bartos trained Finn, the first ever scat (feces) detection dog at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia. Bartos hopes the skills and training techniques she used to teach Finn will be as successful with Koda.

As Koda is still quite young, she likely will not be assisting in the field until next spring or summer. Right now, she’s maturing and learning basic skills. Koda is also a frequent zoo visitor, going on walks through Franklin Park Zoo several days a week in between her training and play sessions. It’s likely that a few lucky guests may have the chance to spot the small brown pup wearing her bright “Turtle Dog” vest.