The Australian military has often gone to animal refuge's looking for dogs with unique skill sets to train for rehoming in the military in jobs such as bomb sniffing, and there have been many 'rescues/adoptions' as a result of these visits. They test them in similar ways to how you might test a dog you were thinking of adopting as a family pet. Eagerness to sniff out treats, intensity or willingness to chase a ball or toy, enthusiasm to interact with humans. These are all behaviours that signify a dog that can be trained, but when Migaloo the black labrador cross mastiff was picked out at an animal rescue centre over 14 months ago due to her ball crazy attitude and special skill sets, it wasn't for the military that she was chosen. It was to find bones underground. But not just any bones underground. Old bones. Ancient bones.
Her finds to date? Human bones as old as 600 years old and fossils dated by palaeontologists to be between 2.6million and 5.3million years old. She can find them up to and over 2 metres underground.
She is the best in the world at what she does (finding old bones). Other dogs have been trained to find bones for the police etc.. but to date, until Migaloo started work in her new position, the oldest bones found by a dog were 174 year old Civil War bones in the US.
Migaloo is also the only dedicated archaeology dog in the world and she has been such a success that no doubt she will be the first of many to come.
Migaloo found the 600 year old Aboriginal bones at a gravesite in South Australia, (she won't dig and damage archaeology until given the command to dig). Trainer Gary Jackson says of this Aboriginal grave find.
"We were given about an acre to search, the elders and museum officials knew where the graves were, but not us," Gary said. "But within two minutes, Migaloo was circling the spot and clawing at the ground and digging and it was exactly where the grave was."
"It was remarkable because bones that old don't have any flesh left on them, yet she still smells something!"
As I write this blog post, Migaloo and her trainer Gary are in the Roma district of Western Queensland - an area rich in fossil discoveries – to hunt out dinosaurs."I'd love to get the chance to search another dinosaur area but I think Migaloo is more concerned about getting to sink her teeth into her tennis ball," he said.
Next year Migaloo will travel to France and Belgium in search of the lost graves of WWII soldiers. “to be able to get closure for the families of Australian and American soldiers who died over there”.