Wild dog urine may hold a secret message

Fri Aug 5, 2011 8:59am GMT
 

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists are working to artificially produce the urine of wild dogs, hoping to keep other wild dogs away from humans and prevent them from destroying livestock, avoiding losses that mount into millions of dollars every year.

Researchers say the chemical message in the urine of dingoes, as the wild dogs are known, insists "this is my territory, stay out" -- creating a "bio boundary" that that the dogs and other wild animals cannot cross.

"We hope it would be a non-lethal tool for the management of dingo in Australia," said Alan Robley, senior research scientist at the Department of Sustainability and Environment, a government-funded research institute.

"You can use this non-lethal barrier to keep animals out of where people don't want them -- in their back yards or those sort of urban areas where towns are encroaching into the bush (wilderness), or on a farm where there are sheep and where dogs are coming in and attacking their sheep."

Animals use chemical messages all the time to advertise their social status, whether or not they are sexually available and ready for reproduction, and things about their food. The messages come through the chemicals they excrete.

Scientists collect urine from captive dingoes -- male and female, adults and juveniles -- held in private collections around Australia. The urine is then sent to a laboratory where they can extract the molecular signature of the different chemicals that make up the urine.

"That analysis tells us how strong each of those chemicals are," Robley said.

The chemicals are reproduced and presented back to the animals under test conditions to see how they respond.

It's believed that wild dogs cause roughly A$64 million ($64 million) in damage to livestock throughout Australia each year, $18 million in southern Victoria state alone.

"There's a bit of work being done in Botswana on African wild dogs which is very similar to this, but no one's tried to extract and identify the constituent chemical compounds of wild dogs or dingo urine before and use that in a management sense," Robley said.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin;editing by Elaine Lies)

 
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