Tule, a six-year-old Belgian Malinois scouts for bear scat near southwestern Montana’s Big Hole Valley. Grizzlies have been sighted in the area after many decades, and DNA from the scat would inform biologists and land managers working to recover this threatened species where they’re coming from.
Pepin is a Belgian Malinois, a sleek race-car version of the more common German shepherd. Strong, self-assured, and intensely focused (a littermate was part of Seal Team 6’s takedown of Osama bin Laden), Pepin has trotted across Zambian savannas to find evidence of lions, leopards, and cheetahs, and he’s pushed through lowland tropical rainforests in Myanmar searching out signs of wild elephants. His skill at sniffing out different animals’ dung has given conservationists a quick way to estimate those animals’ populations.
Now on the bank of a clear mountain stream near the Missouri River’s headwaters in Montana, Pepin suddenly dropped onto his haunches and fixed his gaze on ecologist Megan Parker.
This was his signal for having located a target. All morning, he’d been leading her to droppings left by wolves, cougars, bears, and other carnivores as she and two other trainers with dogs crisscrossed a large private property protected from development.
They were trying to gain a more detailed picture of how those wide-ranging animals were using this land, part of a key wildlife corridor in the 22-million-acre Greater...