This blog is a collaborative effort of GC staff, colleagues, scientists, supporters, and friends. This space will be used to share amazing stories about all things Galapagos and our efforts to conserve these treasured islands.

Sniffing Out Invasives: An Update on Snail Detection Dogs in Galapagos

By Rebecca Ross, Executive Director of Dogs for Conservation

Recently, one of our trainers headed back to the Galapagos Islands to check in on our newly established conservation dog detection teams. In December 2014, Dogs for Conservation brought two dogs and a team of trainers to build local capacity to address the invasive Giant African Land Snail (GALS) problem on Santa Cruz (thanks to a generous grant from Galapagos Conservancy). The goal was to train staff from the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG), already working to combat invasive species, to handle specially-trained detection dogs that could assist in locating and eradicating the GALS.

Dogs for Conservation sent four trainers for one month of intensive daily training sessions with the new dog handlers and to acclimate the dogs, Darwin and Neville, to their new home in the Islands. Handling working dogs is not intuitive and does not come naturally for most people. Our new local team has been keen and motivated from the beginning, but a lot of training was needed to get them ready to become full-time canine handlers.

In December 2014, we covered basic canine behavior, body language, leash handling, clicker training, daily care, proper nutrition, and many other aspects related to training and handling detection dogs. This was information overload, and although our December trip went very well, we certainly did not expect an overnight success story — we knew it would take time and experience to turn our new team members into highly capable dog handlers.

Since December, we have received regular updates from the Galapagos team members via email and video sharing, and have assisted remotely with questions or concerns that have arisen. We recently sent Texas-based trainer Tiffanie Turner back to Galapagos to check on the progress of both the dogs and their human counterparts. We fully expected there would be plenty for Tiffanie to do upon her arrival!

Tiffanie reported that Darwin and Neville have acclimated well to their new home and to their handlers. As with any big move there were some unexpected bumps in the road, such as one of the dogs having a chronic allergy to a plant found in Galapagos. Fortunately, the dogs are in the great care of the veterinarians at the ABG and their health is monitored very closely at all times.

Both the dogs and their humans needed some “tune-ups” in the training department, which is Tiffanie’s forte. She put them through their paces with lots of training scenarios and real-world field trips to help refresh their memories and keep them motivated. The key to our training philosophy (both dogs and humans!) is to reward, reward, reward — so the dogs got their toys every time they did the correct behavior (find a snail), and the humans were rewarded with lots of verbal praise and the occasional piece of candy!

There are many other potential uses for detection dogs to assist conservation efforts in Galapagos. Our hope is that, with continued support from Dogs for Conservation and Galapagos Conservancy, our newly formed canine teams can continue their work on GALS eradication as well as be prepared for new projects that may come along that require the support of these special dogs and their human teammates.


Rebecca Ross is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Dogs for Conservation and works full time as a Wildlife Ecologist and Detection Dog Trainer and Handler.

All photos © Dogs for Conservation.



Española Part 2: Counting Albatross and Measuring Cactus

By guest author Dr. James Gibbs of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). All photos © James Gibbs. The seas finally calmed sufficiently to allow us to head to Española. After two hours …

Española: Creating Albatross “Airstrips” and More

By guest author Dr. James Gibbs of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). All photos © James Gibbs. Wacho and I are gearing up for a seven-day-long field trip into the middle of …

Preparing for the Release of Tortoises on Santa Fe Island

The long-term goal of Galapagos Conservancy’s Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, carried out in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, is to rebuild Galapagos tortoise populations to their historical numbers. This includes returning tortoises to islands where humans caused their …

Galapagos and Beyond: April 2015 Roundup

This month’s roundup features an article on Floreana Island and plans for tortoise restoration, an update on the ban on plastic bags in Galapagos, new research on the invasive Philornis downsi fly, insight into managing the Galapagos pet population, and …

Protecting Galapagos Wildlife through Humane Pet Management

By Tod Emko and Andrea Gordon of Darwin Animal Doctors, a nonprofit organization providing free, comprehensive veterinary care to the domestic animals of the Galapagos Islands, as well as free education and professional veterinary training to the resident community of …

Galapagos and Beyond: March 2015 Roundup

This month’s roundup includes an exciting update on the Mangrove Finch Project in Galapagos, a brief video on Galapagos tortoises from CNN, a special Earth Day campaign with Free World United, and a Lonesome George story and art. Enjoy!    …

Preventing Marine Invasive Species in Galapagos: 2015 Workshop Recap

By Inti Keith, Marine Invasive Species Project Coordinator at the Charles Darwin Foundation.  There are milestone moments in all our professional lives. Co-hosting the first International Workshop on Marine Bioinvasions of Tropical Island Ecosystems this past February as a PhD student …

Galapagos and Beyond: February 2015 Roundup

Scientists pinpoint genes that give Darwin’s finches their distinctive beaks In a journal article published earlier this month in Nature, scientists revealed the genetic changes that gave Darwin’s finches — the Galapagos finches critical to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution …
Tortoise Cam

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