Meet Jinx, the dog on a mission to protect Welsh bird colonies from rats
A lively spaniel with a nose for sniffing out rats has been unveiled as a new weapon in the fight to protect precious seabird colonies on small islands off the Welsh coast.
Billed as the UK’s first “conservation detection dog”, Jinx’s role will be to keep islands such as Skomer, off Pembrokeshire, famed for its colonies of puffins, clear of rats, which can decimate bird populations.
Jinx, a three-year-old working cocker spaniel, will not be directly responsible for tackling any rats found on the islands but will simply detect them and it will then be up to his human handlers to decide what to do next.
Emily Williams, senior marine policy officer with RSPB Cymru, said: “He’s trained to identify rat scent. He’s really adept at being able to identify where rats are located. If he identifies the presence of a rat we can deal with it really quickly. If we don’t, rats reproduce very quickly and you have a serious problem. We deal with the rats – he tells us if there are any.”
Jinx has been training on another island off Pembrokeshire, Ramsey, which in 1999-2000 was cleared of the brown rats blamed for wrecking bird populations for centuries. Ramsey is home to thousands of Manx shearwaters, which nest in rabbit burrows and venture out at night.
“The population exploded once the rats had gone,” said Williams. “But the puffins that used to live there have never come back. It shows once you get rats on an island it can be very difficult to get some seabirds back.”
Other islands that Jinx will work on include Skokholm, Grassholm and Bardsey, which provide homes to birds such as razorbills, guillemots, gulls and gannets.
The Welsh government has provided £250,000 for new biosecurity measures for Wales that includes payrolling Jinx.
His role was officially announced on the steps of the Senedd – the Welsh parliament – on Cardiff Bay by the climate change minister, Julie James.
She said: “Protecting our seabirds and balancing our precious ecosystems is all of our responsibility as we face the climate and nature emergencies. We can help Jinx do his job properly by being vigilant to critters on our clothes, invasive species in our rucksacks or mammalian hunters who hitchhike a lift when we visit these islands.”
However, the issue of clearing large populations of rats from islands rich in seabird populations has been criticised by animal rights activists. A spokesperson for the campaign group Animal Aid said it was “morally abhorrent” for people to dictate which species can live and to demonise and kill others in the name of conservation.
They said: “Allowing dogs to sniff out rats to be killed is likely to cause tremendous suffering and does not offer a long-term solution, as other rats will quickly take their place. The number of seabirds in Britain is rapidly declining due to many wider factors, including overfishing and climate change.”