The illegal wildlife trade is a rapidly growing global industry run by highly organised criminal networks. Worth an estimated $19 billion per year, it is perceived by poachers and traders as a potentially lower risk illegal activity. The future of tigers and thousands of other species, big and small, depend on our ability to curtail the ruthless trade. This is where our four legged companions are stepping in.
WHY ARE SNIFFER DOGS EFFECTIVE?
Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell that is almost one thousand times more sensitive than a human’s. This gives them the ability to discriminate between the faintest odours and detect smells from both live species and raw materials, despite smugglers’ efforts to mask scents. Sniffer dogs are often trained to detect specific products such as tiger skin and bones but they are also effective in detecting other wildlife contraband such as ivory, bear bile, live bird species, snakes and even weapons.
WHAT IS A SNIFFER DOG’S JOB?
Sniffer dogs are often employed at airports, shipping ports, transportation centres and national parks. They work alongside a handler to quickly scan cargo, luggage, packaging, vehicles or areas for illegal contraband. The dogs only sniff out wildlife products for short periods of time (often working interchangeable shifts throughout the day), yet they make a big difference. They not only increase efficiency and detect hard-to-find substances but their presence also provides a strong deterrent to traffickers and helps raise awareness in the public about the illegal wildlife trade.
HOW ARE SNIFFER DOGS TRAINED?
Sniffer dogs are trained through an incentive programme which reinforces positive behaviour. After a successful scent, the dog is rewarded with food or play, increasing their eagerness to discover contraband. Close bonds form between sniffer dogs and their handlers as they must be finely attuned to work effectively and make successful seizures. Not only must they trust and understand each other, but they must rely on each other too—the sniffer dog for commands and directions and the handler for cues and expressions.
WHICH TIGER RANGE COUNTRIES USE SNIFFER DOGS?
TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade and monitoring network) has assisted law enforcement agencies in training and implementing sniffer dogs across the globe. Of the tiger range countries, TRAFFIC and WWF work with governments to use sniffer dogs in the following places; Russia, China and India (to combat wildlife trafficking) and Nepal and India (to combat poaching).
The largest sniffer dog training centre in Asia is situated in Yunnan province, China. Named the Ruili Sniffer Dogs Training Centre, it is an official TRAFFIC partner.
To find out more about these amazing canines, including news and stories, visit TRAFFIC’s website.