March 15, 2022
Conservation Canines | Dog Edition #51

We traveled around the world to bring you stories of conservation canines using their super sniffers and prey drive to help humans and nature coexist. From bear dogs in the desert, to plant detectors in the tropics, we have a lot to share today on Dog Edition.

The world around us is constantly changing, and not always for the better. It is undeniable that humans have a stressful impact on wildlife. But the good news is, there are conservation pups working hard to save our environment, one species at a time. Today we speak with Heather Reich, a Game Biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and she shares with us how her Karelian bear dogs are chasing black bears in order to protect them. Black bears in the Sierra Nevada Mountains often make their way into populated areas that are abundant with easy meals; fruit trees, houses full of sweets, and garbage cans free for the taking. This is dangerous because these bears become comfortable around people and spend less time in their natural and safer environment. This is where Heather’s bear dogs come in. Once a bear is caught acting naughty within city limits multiple times, it is tranquilized and relocated to a less human populated area. Then, the bear dogs haze and harass the freshly released bears to create a negative association with people.

But this is not only happening in Nevada. Nils Pedersen is the Director of the Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) in Alaska, where he breeds and trains Karelians to do conservation work around the globe. Some of his dogs have even found their way to Japan.

Picchio is a Wildlife Research Center in Japan that uses Karelian bear dogs to enable peaceful coexistence between people and the Asiatic bears that live in the forest. Junpei Tanaka tells us about his two Karelians who work as wildlife ambassadors to local communities.

Lastly, we will hear from Kyoko Johnson, who is the founder and lead K9 trainer at Conservation Dogs of Hawaii. Her conservation canines detect invasive species like devil weed and coqui frogs, to help conserve the delicate flora and fauna of Hawaii.

Photo Credit: John Axtell, taken of Heather’s Karelian bear dogs in Nevada

Heather Reich

Heather Reich is a Game Biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife and has 5 Karelian bear dogs. Using Karelians, Heather works to mediate human and bear interactions in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a method of black bear conservation. Her first two Karelians, Sputnik and Orca, are now retired at 13 years old and are living the life of luxury with Heather and husband Derek. The rest of her pack are active canine conservators.

Nils Pedersen

Nils Pedersen is the Director of the Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) in Alaska. He began working with the WRBI in 2011 as the trainer and handler of the Karelian bear dog “Soledad”. Together they have worked to address human-bear conflict issues with all three species of North American bear: brown, black, and polar bear. Nils completed a M.Sc. degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2019. You can support the Wind River Bear Institute at

Junpei Tanaka

Junpei Tanaka 純平田中 is the leader of the bear team at Picchio’s Wildlife Research Center and has been working there for over 20 years. Junpei has two Karelians, Tama and Rela. Tama means “bullet” in Japanese, was named after Picchio’s first bear dog from the Wind River Bear Institute. Rela means “wind” in the Ainu (indigenous peoples of northern Japan) language, and her name was a tribute to Wind River Bear Institute for first establishing the use of bear dogs as a method of coexistence. You can support Picchio’s mission at

Kyoko Johnson

Kyoko Johnson is the founder and lead K9 trainer at Conservation Dogs of Hawaii. Along with her conservation canines and volunteer staff, Kyoko works to detect invasive species to mitigate their impact on wildlife and the ecosystems of Hawaii, and detect endangered species for research and conservation purposes. You can donate to this non-profit at


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