Canines Stop Wildlife Traffickers in Their Tracks

Sniffer Dogs

In July 2015, the first class of dogs graduated from the African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF) unique anti-trafficking program, the Conservation Canine Programme. The eight graduates are currently stationed in airports and seaports in Kenya and Tanzania, working closely with the wildlife authorities to diligently detect wildlife products bound for international travel. The enthusiastic canines sniff their way throughout these highly trafficked venues, searching high and low for contraband wildlife products.

Their success is undeniable. Since January 2016, the Canine Detection Unit’s keen sense of smell has resulted in 14 separate seizures of illegal wildlife products, including not only ivory but also pangolin scales and bushmeat.

In addition to stopping wildlife criminals en route, the Canine Detection Units have been further influencing positive internal changes within their stationed venues.


The airports are responding positively to the dogs' arrival. They have since been developing stronger regulations to their security standards—to better align with the canine units’ commitment to finding illegal wildlife products. After a canine unit found bushmeat in a passenger’s luggage in Kenya, the airport has since implemented new, advanced techniques to detect the illegal product.

Airport and seaport staff is enthusiastic about working alongside their new four-legged colleagues: “The airport staff is happy with the dogs,” says Will Powell Conservation Canine Programme director. “Everyone is glad when a bust occurs.” 

Working Together

The presence of AWF-trained Canine Detection Units has also led to the retraining of older detection dogs, using AWF’s Conservation Canine Programme techniques. Since the Canine Detection Units’ arrival, handlers have been working closely with Kenya Wildlife Service and Tanzania Wildlife Division to sync their efforts and create a strong, unified anti-trafficking team.


The highly trained canines are finding even the smallest traces of wildlife products, like ivory that has already been carved into jewelry or ornaments. “The use of sniffer dogs will help to crack down on the poaching of elephants and other wildlife species,” said Faustin Masalu, Tanzania Wildlife Division’s head of anti-poaching. “Illegal traffickers will not be safe at any point, particularly at checkpoints.”

Our Conservation Canine Programme is in the midst of training its second class of eager sniffer dogs, that will soon be keeping even more ports safe from wildlife traffickers. With this kind of momentum, AWF is confident we will continue to stop traffickers in their tracks.