Finding buried bullfrogs with Jessie the sheepdog
Giant African Bullfrogs are impressively lazy. As though their sole purpose is to expand with as little effort as possible, the slimy creatures sleep for eleven months of the year. Which makes them tricky to study. In fact, Esté Matthew found the task impossible to accomplish alone. So she got herself a research assistant with a nose for the business.
Jessie is a sheepdog whose party trick is detecting buried bullfrogs, a skill she acquired as a puppy. While Matthew was busy with her Master’s degree, which focused on Giant African Bullfrogs, she put her new pooch through a rigorous scientific training routine to enable her to detect the distinct scent of the amphibians. Within two weeks of training Jessie could find bullfrogs above ground and six months later was discovering them underground. The pair’s study was aimed at broadening scientific understanding of this protected species that is under threat in Gauteng due to its habitat being diminished by urbanisation.
When Matthew successfully completed her degree, the sniffer hound was recognised alongside her mistress as having made an invaluable contribution to the study. “Jessie is more than my favourite work colleague,” says Matthew. “She’s my best friend.” Inseparable, the two are now employed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust to study the critically endangered riverine rabbit. As this unbreakable bond between scientist and dog continues to generate research that is being used to protect wildlife, Matthew and Jessie push South African science to greater heights.