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Guardians of the Zoo

African elephants are the unexpected residents of 724 acres of lush forest and pasture in southwest Pennsylvania. Even more surprising, is a group of elite canines that helps to protect these endangered animals from wildlife and human intruders.

The International Conservation Center (ICC), which is part of the Pittsburgh Zoo, is dedicated to wildlife conservation and preservation, hosting breeding programs for threatened and endangered animals that face challenges reproducing and surviving in zoos and in the wild. To help maintain this peaceful refuge, each staff member who lives at the center has their own protection dog.

“The dogs have a healthy respect for the elephants and keep their distance,” farm manager Dayton Baker said.

Rather than running loose on the picturesque preserve, the dogs are almost always with their owners. Of course there are times when the dogs drift away to check out an unusual sight or sound.

One day Mieko was “barking like crazy, which is unusual because the dogs are trained to bark only at something they feel is suspicious,” Baker recalled. “Pat [a co-worker] went to investigate. She found a large black bear at the outside edge of her one-acre yard.”

Needless to say, Pat was thrilled to have Mieko there to alert her to the presence of a possible predator.

German Shepherd Dogs have been working at the ICC for several years. Trained in positive reinforcement methods, the dogs work for treats and toys. Their responsibility to the ICC is to provide a presence of strength, courage, and protection at a moment’s notice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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