AWF and KWS Train Journalists on the Role of Canines in Curbing Wildlife Trafficking
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(NAIROBI, KENYA — January 26, 2023) The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) participated in a webinar organized by Internews Earth Journalism Network (EJN). The webinar, dubbed ‘Can Canines Help Prevent Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in East Africa?’ is part of EJN’s Biodiversity Knowledge Hub Series that aims to inform and educate the public on the importance of biodiversity, the latest conservation threats, and solutions to combat them. The webinar attracted 70 participants, primarily members of the Fourth Estate.
Moderated by Kiundu Waweru, EJN’s Project Manager, East African Media Coverage of Wildlife and Conservation, the virtual session brought together experts in the conservation domain. These experts included AWF Vice President for Species and Conservation Science Dr. Philip Muruthi and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Head of Marine and Community Programs, Mark Kinyua. The two panelists extensively discussed how canine units help law enforcement prevent wildlife trafficking across the East African region. Additionally, the conversation delved into how journalists, governments, and others can best investigate the effectiveness of this potential solution
Illegal wildlife trafficking (IWT) and trade are major problems not just in East Africa but across the globe. This vice leads to the extinction of wildlife species, climate change, loss of critical ecological roles played by wildlife, for instance, seed dispersal, the emergence of zoonotic diseases, insecurity, and loss of revenue just to mention but a few. According to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the value of IWT has been estimated at between US $7 and $23 billion per year ranking it among the most lucrative illegal industries.
AWF works with wildlife authorities in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana, Cameroon, and Ethiopia to execute the Canines for Conservation program. The program aims at arresting perpetrators of IWT, deterring IWT activities as well as educating the public on the importance of wildlife and dismantling false information and myths about wildlife and their parts. In partnership with African Governments, AWF pairs the dogs with a handler from the respective wildlife management authorities to undergo a rigorous training exercise for 3 months to undertake detection work. AWF deploys the use of detection dogs and tracking dogs. The former detects contraband in bags and packages whereas the latter tracks the scent of footprints.
In his presentation, Dr. Muruthi underscored several reasons why detection dogs have been incorporated into conservation to curb IWT. “Dogs have a highly developed olfactory system up to 100,000 times as acute as a human nose. They are also fast and can differentiate up to 30 different scents. Search areas where detection dogs come in handy include vehicles in roadblocks and borders, shipping containers, air cargo, and people’s houses,” he said. He further added that they are incorruptible, efficient, and accurate, and they do not lie. These dogs play an indispensable role in deterring wildlife crimes.
In Kenya, the incorporation of the canine unit in conservation by KWS has proven to be effective in combatting wildlife trafficking. Kinyua said that between 2014 and 2022, KWS documented a total of 102 incidences of arrests/recoveries and 114 traffickers arrested and prosecuted.
“In 2016, we started seeing a changing trend, and we realized people were trafficking pangolins. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world. We had to train our dogs to detect the scent of pangolins. When we put our canine teams to task, we started recording a lot of trafficking cases which then started going down drastically,” said Kinyua as he took the audience through the government’s work with canines to curb illegal wildlife crime in our sea and airports.
Both speakers acknowledged that canines have challenges as well. Tsetse flies pose a big threat to the dogs as they expose them to the danger of trypanosomiasis. This infection is almost a death sentence. Kinyua noted that they are interested in finding lasting solutions to this through partnerships with the small animal laboratory at the University of Nairobi and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). For instance, repellants can be used on dogs or in their kennels to prevent the attack mainly occurring at night.
Wildlife and natural resources are part of the African heritage. Treating them well is beneficial to our human well-being and economic development. Dealing with the trafficking and poaching peril creates an opportunity for Africans to enjoy the benefits of wildlife. As his parting shot, Dr. Muruthi appealed to members of the press to promote this course as it is crucial not only for the current generations but also for the generations to come.
About African Wildlife Foundation
The African Wildlife Foundation is the primary advocate for the protection of wildlife and their habitats as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa. Founded in 1961 during the African independence movement in order to build our capacity to steward our natural resources, AWF articulates a uniquely African vision, bridging science, education, public policy, and field programs to demonstrate the benefits of conservation and build a future for Africa where people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.awf.org
MEDIA CONTACTS: For more information or to arrange interviews contact Wambui Odhiambo of AWF in Nairobi, Kenya at firstname.lastname@example.org