These dogs may help save Africa’s elephants and rhinos

Dogs showed off their skills during the canine detection dog graduation day held outside the town of Arusha, Tanzania.

Dogs showed off their skills during the canine detection dog graduation day held outside the town of Arusha, Tanzania.

(Cheryl-Samantha Owen / African Wildlife Foundation)

Dogs typically are used at airports to sniff out drugs or food products. At LAX and other U.S. airports, they are trotted out to calm down nervous fliers. Now a newly trained pack of canines will be unleashed in Kenya and Tanzania to do something else: track down illegal ivory.

Eight ivory detection dogs, as they’re called, and their handlers have been trained to find everything from ivory dust to large tusks, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, which sponsors the canine unit.

They sit on their haunches or lie down when they make a discovery. Specific dog breeds are chosen for their motivation and ability to ignore distractions. The first group includes German shepherds from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary as well as Malinois or Belgian shepherd from Holland and even an English springer spaniel.

Dogs will be assigned to Moi International Airport and the port in Mombasa, Kenya; and the port of Dar and Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Their handlers are rangers with Kenya and Tanzania’s wildlife agencies.


“The Ports of Dar and Mombasa have been identified as key export hubs for trafficked ivory,” the foundation’s media relations manager Kathleen Garrigan writes in an email. “As the program expands, detection teams may also be installed at border crossings through which illegal ivory is suspected to pass.”

Illegal poaching accounts for the killing of 30,000 elephants in Africa each year, according to wildlife trade monitoring organization Traffic.

And consider this: While the world collectively freaked out over the American hunter who killed beloved lion Cecil in Zimbabwe, a separate and more common wildlife tragedy was playing out in Kenya.

Media reports say five elephants, a mother and four offspring, were hacked to death for their tusks in Tsavo West National Park on Monday night. The ivory most often is marketed to Chinese carving factories. (To see how the illegal business works, check out “Ivory: From Bush to Market.”)

Elephants aren’t the only targets of poachers. Traffic also reports that 1,215 rhinoceros were killed for their horns in South Africa alone in 2014. Such illegal acts prompted the United Nations on Thursday to adopt a resolution that urges countries to “prevent, combat and eradicate” illegal trade in wildlife.

That’s why the African Wildlife Foundation enlisted dogs in the hunt for poachers. The first class “graduated” last Friday.

Since 2011, other organizations have training tracker dogs that help authorities sniff out criminals in the bush in Tanzania and Kenya. They have helped in several crackdowns and arrests, according to the Honeyguide Foundation and the Big Life Tracker Dog Unit, which train tracker dogs.



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