Motivated by a lucrative illegal wildlife trade, poachers target Africa’s iconic species like the elephant and rhino through well-funded, highly trained, and increasingly sophisticated criminal syndicates. The poaching of rhinos has increased nearly 3,000 percent since 2007 as growing markets seek out rhino horn for its fabled medicinal properties. Although demand for ivory is sometimes limited by international embargoes, it still reaches consumers through the black market. If poaching does not stop, these species could become extinct within our lifetime.
African Wildlife Foundation’s Canines for Conservation program combats wildlife trafficking by deploying detection dogs and their handlers to key airports and seaports throughout the continent. The sniffer dogs can detect even the smallest amounts of wildlife contraband, like ivory or rhino horn dust, stopping traffickers before they can export the illegal products.
The best-in-breed initiative selects canines based on their friendliness and playfulness — traits that make great sniffer dogs — and pairs them with a ranger from a wildlife agency such as Kenya Wildlife Service. After intensive training on the ins and outs of detecting illegal wildlife products, the teams target high-risk gateways for smuggling. So far, these include strategic airports and seaports in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
Coupled with a streamlined prosecutorial process, each contraband find means that fewer wildlife products reach the market plus more smugglers and poachers are locked out of illegal wildlife trade.
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