LIFE Raft Project

The Rathlin twilight bark – a news roundup on ferrets and detection dogs

Wednesday 28/02/24

A detection dog on sabbatical

A few weeks ago, we had some special visitors on Rathlin – Hannah, a detection dog handler from Kryus Canine Limited and Conservation Detection Dogs NI, and her dog, Jess. They were here on a sort of ‘sabbatical’ while we wait for our own full-time project dog to join us (more on that below).

Dogs’ super smelling noses are an evolutionary gift to conservation. Their ability to detect the tiniest traces of animals makes them invaluable members of eradication teams around the world, and we were keen to see what the pair might find.

The trapping team took the human/canine detective pair out to some likely spots and Jess quickly worked her magic. She found a ferret scent!

Does this mean we’ve found a ferret?

This was a big moment, but it does not mean we’ve found a ferret. We know that there are still ferrets out there (we are cautiously optimistic that we are down to the last individuals), but it’s possible that Hannah and Jess found an old scent, or Jess was still getting used to her surroundings.

Having said that, Jess’s indication is a real clue that there might be a ferret in the area. Our team worked quickly to put more traps out and switched up the bait. There have been no sightings so far, but it’s early days and with the weather warming up any last remaining ferrets will be on the move.

You can hear more from Fionbharr, Rathlin resident and LIFE Raft trapper, in this audio clip:


Fionbharr getting ready to carry traps down the slopes after applying ferret pheromones to the traps that sit on the flat.  

When will the LIFE Raft dog be coming to Rathlin?

In the meantime, some of the other trappers have been off island getting hands-on training on how to work a detection dog themselves. During their time there they heard the sad news that Rue, the dog we hoped would be joining LIFE Raft, just isn’t the right fit for the project.

This isn’t because she failed her detection exams. She is a talented dog who did her trainers proud! But as she grew up it became clear that she didn’t work well with other dogs around, which isn’t practical on Rathlin. Our team also noticed that small, short-haired Rue might be susceptible to cold weather – and having just got through one long, wet winter on island we have to be ready for another one. After discussing this with Kryus trainers, we agreed it wasn’t going to work.

We wish Rue the best, and hope she finds other work where she can put her amazing nose to good use. And we think that we’ve already found another dog who will be happier on Rathlin (“Rue Two”, if you will). We’re still ironing out the details, but we’ll update you as soon as anything is confirmed. Fingers crossed for the new dog.

Featured image: Jess, the detection dog. Credit: Hannah, Kryus Canine Limited

LIFE Raft is a partnership between RSPB NIRathlin Development and Community AssociationCauseway Coast and Glens Borough Council; National Parks and Wildlife ServiceCauseway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust; and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
This project is funded by EU LIFE [LIFE20 NAT/UK/000349]; National Lottery Heritage Fund; and DAERA.