Wagtail UK Limited2013-07-04 12:33:19

Anti-Poaching dogs sniff out success in Gabon

Conservation Dogs, a subsidiary of Wagtail UK Limited working in partnership with the Gabonese National Park Agency (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN), the Ministry of Water and Forests (MINEF) and Wildlife Conservation Society continue their successful work to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

The already successful team supplied by Conservation Dogs has improved the ability of the Gabon government to detect illegal wildlife traffic by provisioning ANPN with two fully trained dogs and training three Gabonese handlers, two Gabonese kennel hands and a Program Coordinator to manage the detection dog unit. The dogs are trained to detect key wildlife and plant species that are currently impacted by the illegal trade in Gabon. These include: Ivory, Pangolin Scale, Leopard Skin, Shark fin, and Iboga tree products.

The new detection dog unit of the ANPN is one of the components of a government strategy to reduce poaching; the government is working up upstream of the problem - catching the poachers and improving park protection, and downstream working politically with demand countries. The dog unit is expected to be particularly important in helping Gabon curtail illegal exportation of ivory from Gabon's ports and airports. Across Central Africa, 76% of the forest elephant population is estimated to have already been lost to poaching, with an estimated decline of 30% in Gabon.

This high elephant poaching pressure, coupled with illegal trade of animal skins and other wildlife and plant products encouraged Gabon to identify innovative ways to improve the detection rate of prohibited products. Because challenges associated with curbing the illicit trade in wildlife are similar to those of illegal drugs, the National Parks Agency looked to similar methods used by customs and police - dogs.

After undertaking a feasibility study in 2012 to ascertain the effectiveness in using search dogs to detect poached items, a 12 week training programme consisting of scent and environmental training was implemented by Wagtail for the National Parks Agency. Anti-poaching dogs and handlers are trained to focus their searches at pinch points such as the airport, railways and river points.

"This collaboration with Wagtail is an important component in our strategy to deal with the illegal trade in ivory and other wildlife products", said Prof Lee White, head of Gabon's National Parks Agency. "It is helping us to catch the criminals involved in the trade, thereby acting as a deterrent and reducing the pressure on the parks. At the same time we are strengthening patrols to prevent poaching and we are working with partner countries to explore ways to reduce demand."

It is not only detection dogs amazing scenting ability, but their enthusiasm, drive, and ability to work in temperature extremes, covering vast areas, quickly and effectively that has made what was previously an arduous task for human search teams, simpler, faster, highly effective and far less invasive. Indeed, the detection dog unit has already been rewarded with some fantastic successful finds, including ivory in checked-in luggage, pangolin hidden inside a truck, and several sacs of shark fin hidden within other fish products.

Louise Wilson Director and Head of Training at Conservation Dogs said, "We are delighted to say that this is the first time in the history of Sniffer Dogs that dogs have been trained to detect Ivory, Leopard skin, Pangolin Scales and Iboga Root - and it's our dogs that are doing it."

Conservation Dogs continue to work in Gabon on a full time basis with support from the Wildlife Conservation Society to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

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