Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers
Christina Couch and Cara Giaimo, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Walker Books (MIT Kids Press)

This fascinating book introduces animals large and small, each one having been selected because it has the ability to perform a specific task such as testing treated water, or has a special highly developed sense.

There are eight main topics, one per chapter and readers are also given briefer notes on many others. First we learn of a dog named Eba, trained to help a human killer whale biologist track endangered orcas. Eba is ‘possibly the only dog in the world trained to sniff killer whale poop’. Then there’s Cynthia, a ferret living underground in Leicester. One of fifty, their task is to help humans run cables through ‘skinny underground pipes and replacing pipes when they break.’ This they do by means of their whiskers.

Rosita is a goat – a risk abatement goat – one of a herd that climb over the rocky hills of Southern California, eating dried-out bushes, grasses and other dried-out plants, thus removing fuel sources for small fires which could get out of control, as well as creating paths that are helpful for human firefighters coming to put out flames.

Did you know that since 2002 researchers working on the ICARUS project have used tracking tags placed on thousands of animals the world over and monitored from space as a means of predicting earthquakes. One such is a cow named Bertha in Italy; in 2016 she was able to sense an imminent earthquake.

Each chapter is followed by a related ‘activity’ for children to try out. These include simple guided experiments to test their abilities to for instance follow a scent trail or use echolocation.

All the creatures mentioned help their human co-workers tackle real-world problems like pollution and global warming but sometimes there are ethical considerations and the authors don’t overlook these.

In addition to the colour photos, Daniel Duncan provides some gently humorous illustrations;

and the source notes and bibliography are excellent. Altogether an engaging and enlightening book.

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