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Border Collie standing in the forest.


For 80 years, the disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan during an attempt to fly around the globe has stumped the world. Now, researchers are using the fine-tuned canine nose in an attempt to solve the mystery once and for all.

The International Group for Historic Aviation Recovery (TIGHAR) is an expedition group committed to learning the fate of the doomed pilot and navigator, who disappeared on June 2, 1937 after taking off from Papua New Guinea en route to Howland Island. Their bodies and aircraft were never found, but TIGHAR has long held the theory that Earhart and Noonan crash-landed on a remote island in the Pacific and lived as castaways before perishing there. To prove this theory, the organization is bringing four Border Collies trained through the Institute for Canine Forensics, on an expedition to sniff out human remains.

According to National Geographic, who reported the story and whose National Geographic Society is sponsoring the canines, 13 bones were originally found on the uninhabited Pacific island Nikumaroro but were lost decades ago — long before DNA evidence had been discovered. Tom King, TIGHAR’S senior archaeologist, is optimistic other remains can be found. “There’s real potential for there to be more bones there,” King told National Geographic. “There are 193 bones unaccounted for.”

“The dog’s nose is a unique tool that can aid in locating burials,” ICF’s website read. “It can be utilized by archaeologists who use a wide range of multidisciplinary techniques to locate historic and prehistoric burials.”

The team and the dogs will embark from Fiji on June 24 to make the 1,000 mile journey by boat to Nikumaroro. It will take upwards of a week, National Geographic reported.

Once there, the dogs will have the challenge of working through thick underbrush in high temperatures. Still, researchers think the effort is worthwhile.

“National Geographic thought the dogs are worth trying and was willing to sponsor the considerable cost of bringing them to the island,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, wrote on TIGHAR’s Facebook page. “National Geographic will control the testing of anything the dogs find and will share the results with TIGHAR. It’s a cooperative effort.”

Gillespie also used social media to respond to questions of why they aren’t using ground-penetrating radar instead. “We tried GPR in 2010. Didn’t work. The coral rubble is too porous,” he wrote.

Can dogs finally solve the mystery? Follow National Geographic on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the expedition. Also, TIGHAR will be posting weekly reports on its website.
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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