New Mexico

Super Sniffer Back on the Job

See Sampson in Action

A local news station covered the super sniffer's search for salamanders along a New Mexico road.


The oldest Jemez Mountains salamander found to date in New Mexico, estimated to be up to 18 years old.

Back in action for a second consecutive year, a Conservation Canine named Sampson has returned to New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains to sniff out the rare and elusive Jemez Mountains salamander.

A black lab rescued from the Seattle Humane Society, Sampson spent last fall training in the Jemez’s thick underbrush, fine-tuning his nose to locate an amphibian rapidly disappearing from its native forest habitat.

Sampson is back—and must work quickly.

Jemez Mountains salamanders only emerge above ground during the rainy season when the forest soil is suitably damp.

And that’s if there’s any rain at all. 

This year is forecasting to be better for dog-enhanced searches since the rains have been much more frequent, and human crews have had some success, including the oldest known salamander, estimated to be between 15-18 years old.

On the Scene

Sampson has his work cut out for him. But his efforts will go a long way toward helping the Conservancy and our partners help a drying forest.

The Jemez Mountains grew warmer, faster, over the past 60 years than any other place in the state.

In the last three and a half decades, this landscape has suffered a series of large destructive forest fires, a severe drought that killed nearly all the mature piñon pines, and a measurable reduction in the water in our streams.

In monsoon climates like New Mexico’s, fires are frequently followed by big rains, which can cause large-scale erosion of the denuded soils when fires remove large swaths of forest. Following the massive Las Conchas Fire in 2011, monsoon rains forced debris and ash in the Rio Grande, a critical water supply for Albuquerque.

Drought and loss of forests take their toll on salamanders and other species.

Sampson’s Assignment

Sampson’s nose for finding Jemez Mountains salamanders helps identify where the amphibians are concentrated so we can strategically move forward with a large-scale forest restoration program, which will reduce the risk of megafires, create healthy forests and wildlife habitat, and protect the headwaters of streams and rivers.

This year, the detective dog will square off with people. Sampson will sniff out salamanders in one area of the forest while field biologists track the elusive amphibian in another. The results will then be compared. If successful, Sampson and other Conservation Canines could lead research efforts on their own.

Sampson’s Special Assignment

Sampson has also been recruited to track Sacramento salamanders in the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo. Research findings will be used to inform officials designing a road re-alignment on NM 532. Sampson’s special assignment will keep people and salamanders safe.

You can help! Your critical support is needed today to help fund the Conservation Canines research and improve how we manage New Mexico's vital forests.

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