7 September 2018 — 1:03pm
Masked owls are endangered in Tasmania but very hard to monitor in forests.
One of the largest owls in the world, details of their lives are unknown.
But they do leave behind pellets of regurgitated food like hairballs
Zorro the puppy will be trained to sniff out these pellets to help researchers.
Deforestation is the major threat facing masked owls and other Tasmanian species.
To save one of Australia's most elusive birds, scientists need a hero.
Enter Zorro. He's young, charismatic and, like his namesake, never resists the call to adventure. He also happens to be a four-month-old puppy.
But in a last-ditch conservation effort, a crack team of Canberra researchers plan to harness Zorro's superior canine nose to help find and monitor Tasmania's masked owl.
While the endangered bird plays a vital role as the state's largest nocturnal predator, very little is known about its life.
The problem, according to the Australian National University's aptly-named Difficult Bird Research Group, is that masked owls are notoriously hard to monitor in the wild.
Not only is the terrain rugged, but researchers must venture out after dark, scaling ancient trees or straying far off road in some of the most remote corners of Tasmania.
"It's a logistical nightmare, it's just not safe," says Dr Dejan Stojanovic.
"We know almost nothing about these birds, we don't know their population here, we don't know their diet, their habitat."