What: We are working on a proof-of-concept project that will utilize trained scent detection rats on miniature remote-controlled boats to assist with conservation efforts. There are many potential applications for this method in calm water environments that are challenging for humans and dogs to access, even with kayaks. The first application we are exploring is avian botulism surveillance at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.

Why: To find out more about the conservation challenge at Hanalei, please visit our Avian Botulism page. Detection dogs and human surveyors are doing their part to curb this deadly disease in native waterbirds. Due to the unusual wetland taro farm environment at Hanalei NWR, there are certain larger taro units that are difficult for the dogs and humans to survey and clear. The miniature boat will also be equipped with a remote camera to allow visual surveillance, however the sniffer rat should save us time by allowing for wider transects in the search grid.

Where: Avian botulism has occurred on all the major Hawaiian islands, including Kauaʻi, Big Island, Maui, and Oʻahu, as well as on some remote islands such as Midway Atoll.  Kaua‘i has the largest population of the endangered koloa maoli (Hawaiian duck, Anas wyvilliana), the species most affected by avian botulism.