Prosecuting wildlife criminals using sniffer dog evidence

Prosecuting wildlife criminals using sniffer dog evidence

About the Author

Cynthia Kavu is a Legal Officer, Wildlife Law Enforcement at African Wildlife Foundation. She supports AWF's judicial and prosecutorial training workshops and helps in curriculum development for wildlife criminal justice assistance training and the analysis of wildlife laws in African countr ... More

Dogs have been part of our world since time immemorial, considered a best friend and companion. But canines are not only loyal, they are also highly intelligent and possess a dazzling sense of smell. These enviable qualities form the basis of African Wildlife Foundation’s Canines for Conservation Program.

The unique anti-trafficking initiative specifically combats illegal wildlife trade by training and installing sniffer dogs and their handlers at trafficking checkpoints across Africa to uncover illegal shipments of wildlife products. AWF, in partnership with the relevant law enforcement agencies, has deployed canine detection units in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

Poaching levels of African wildlife are still high, and AWF has taken a three-pronged approach in addressing the problem: Stop the Killing, Stop the Trafficking, and Stop the Demand. Intercepting illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin scales before they can reach markets, sniffer dogs are a critical tool in combating the illegal wildlife trade.

Dogs are intelligent creatures and if they could speak, they would tell you how their powerful sense of smell enables them to sniff out wildlife contraband even when items are concealed as coffee or powdered milk. However, dogs are not capable of communicating this and cannot be brought before court to testify about what they have detected yet this evidence is crucial in the prosecution of wildlife traffickers. In many cases, it is the backbone of the trafficking offense and could ultimately lead to conviction and deterrent sentencing.

Photo of AWF-trained sniffer dog and handler demonstrating luggage inspection

Legal frameworks for canine evidence  

To address the question of how evidence recovered by canine detection units can be presented in court, AWF is partnering with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service to hold a regional conference on the Management and Admissibility of Canine Evidence themed “Using Detection Dogs to Combat Wildlife Trafficking in Africa”. Funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and AWF, the conference will be held at AWF Headquarters in Nairobi from March 13-15, 2018. The target participants are detection dog handlers, wildlife crime prosecutors, wildlife crime investigators, airport security officials, and customs officials from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia.

The objectives of the conference are to increase the understanding and general knowledge of the participants on wildlife law enforcement using wildlife detection dogs as well as the evidentiary and procedural considerations when using wildlife detection dogs. Participants will also gain an understanding of the proper administration of wildlife cases relying on detection dog evidence and how to come up with collaborative mechanisms and inter-agency communication to enhance the success of detection dogs.

Close-up of a sniffer dog trained for the AWF Canine for Conservation Program

Through focused presentations, demonstrations, and practical exercises, the conference will cover three topics, namely: Introduction to Wildlife Detection Dogs, Recovery and Management of Evidence and Admissibility of Canine Evidence. The first topic will focus on the functions, training, care, and safety of conservation canines. Introduction to Wildlife Detection Dogs will also feature a canine unit demonstration and a discussion on the challenges and emerging trends in the detection of wildlife contraband.

Secondly, Recovery and Management of Evidence delves into the legal frameworks of canine evidence and how sniffer dog handlers, being expert witnesses, give testimony in court. It also lays emphasis on the recovery, collection, and management of wildlife contraband (or exhibits) recovered by the detection units. The third topic of Admissibility of Canine Evidence looks into the general rules of admissibility of canine evidence in court and the admissibility of canine evidence in each participant country. It also encompasses a mock trial presentation of how canine evidence should be presented in court.

The key outcome of the conference is to stop the trafficking of wildlife products by using trained sniffer dogs and their handlers as an authoritative law enforcement tool in Africa. It is AWF’s firm belief that enhanced enforcement of wildlife laws will ensure effective investigations and prosecutions to deliver sentences that are deterrent enough to discourage wildlife traffickers. The conference aims to achieve this across Africa by bringing various stakeholders together to ensure regional collaboration and support in combating wildlife trafficking.

>Find out how AWF trains wildlife rangers and sniffer dogs to detect illegal wildlife products