Poaching and trophy hunting have been all over the news cycle lately, and for good reason. It seems like there is a new, obscene story about poaching or hunting every week, including the constant decline in the populations of endangered species. Conservation efforts have been trying to protect animals like rhinos and elephants for decades, but to little success. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and there are always new and improved ways to curtail poaching. The latest secret weapon against poachers? Dogs.
Dogs are used to sniff out drugs, explosives, and people, and they have been for years. Now it’s time to add a new item to that list: ivory.
With 60% of Tanzania’s elephants being killed by poachers over the last 5 years, and populations across Africa quickly dwindling, the African nations of Tanzania and Kenya are working to train dogs to sniff out animal parts, primarily ivory, in order to effectively catch poachers. Currently, smuggling is fairly easy. It is a low-risk high-reward business (prices have tripled over the last 5 years), and effectively catching poachers has become more and more difficult. Enter the dogs.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has been working to train a handful of dogs to specifically hunt for ivory, and even assist in tracking poachers. Trainer Will Powell, who has trained bomb detecting dogs for years, has been working to properly prepare both dogs and handlers on how to discovery ivory during searches, especially in vehicles. Smugglers are excellent at hiding caches of ivory from humans, but it is unbelievably hard to hide the scent from these brave canines. They can even detect the scent on clothing, which can lead to discoveries outside of the immediate situation! As of right now, there are only 8 dogs fully trained, but more are working towards certification, meaning that each day smuggling ivory out of Tanzania and Kenya becomes more difficult. While not an immediate fix, as the program yields more results, it seems likely that more countries will follow suit and employ trained dogs to help dry up the lucrative poaching industry.
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