Little Penguin (photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
It’s an all too familiar story: an introduced species comes to an island causing an indigenous population to plummet. In this case, Australia’s Middle Island population of an endangered species had dropped from 700 Little Penguins to 4 in a span of 4 years due to the introduced European Red Fox.
It was looking bad until they called in the dogs, an usual conservation technique (but not unheard of). In 2006 Maremma sheep dogs were introduced to the penguins. This breed, instead of herding, bond with the animals they protect, making them ideal guardians. Since 2006, not a single penguin has succombed to a fox and the population is now over 200.
Maremma sheep dog (photo by M. Gerety)
I wonder way back in the co-evolution of dog and human if we ever imagined that we would manipulate one species genes into domesticity which would then allow us to protect wild genes.
If we can breed dogs to bond and protect other species, why not ourselves? Are we any more of a hunter than the original wolf?
Maybe due to our advanced ages at the onset of reproduction and relatively low offspring production, we really can’t set up a human breeding project that would pacify our behaviors to make enough difference quick enough.
But we can breed awareness and understanding among ourselves, and hence increase our compassion and effectiveness. We just need to herd our impulses, each to their own ability. If a dog can lie down with a penguin, then a lion (us) lying down with a lamb (others) isn’t just a metaphor. We too can make our own earth a garden bed, and lie down with the many others of this planet.