The Illinois native ornate box turtle is receiving help from an unlikely friend, as both their species numbers and habitats face endangerment due to human housing and business expansion. A team of specially trained Boykin spaniels have been tasked with literally sniffing them out at a rate of 2.5 turtles per hour. This rate is astounding when compared to the 4-5 hours it takes a biologist to find these turtles, and has brought the study to whole new levels.

The dogs are working alongside the Chicago Zoological Society to add data to a 15 year old study cataloging health assessments of the quickly disappearing ornate box turtle. After training, the eager dogs are brought to known ornate box turtle habitats. Once a dog locates and fetches a turtle, the biologists get to work. They detail descriptions of their nose, ears, and eyes. They also measure the turtle and take a blood sample, which is tested for viruses. They are also tested for liver and kidney disease.

Without the help of the Boykin spaniels, this study would be crawling slower than the turtles it examines. Thanks to the dogs, biologists are able to find more turtles at a more rapid pace, producing results that can not only impact the future of the species, but determine how the environment could potentially impact humans.

But, why ornate box turtles? For one, they have more in common with humans than given credit for–both use the land and sea and tend to live longer lives than other species. However, the real reason ornate box turtles are the target of the Chicago Zoological Society’s study is the small area of land they consider their home turf.

Because the area where they live is fairly small, the health of ornate box turtles is directly impacted by what is happening in said environment. Their health mirrors the health of the environment and the depletion of the natural resources in the area. By continuing to study the ornate box turtles, biologists compile data that can not only help save the life of the species, but can give information regarding natural resource depletion, as well as help prevent disease and illness in other animals that call that area home, including humans.