Training Animals to Save Animals from Illegal Wildlife Trade
According to TRAFFIC, the world’s leading authority on wildlife trafficking, 12 wildlife sniffer dogs and their handlers began training early this week at the National Training Centre for Dogs (NTCD) in Tekanpur Gwalior as part of an ongoing effort to stop wildlife trafficking.
For those not familiar with Tekanpur Gwalior, it is a small town in the Gwalior district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The town is also home to the Border Security Force Academy where the Assistant Commandants and the Sub-Inspectors of the paramilitary force train, which seems to be an appropriate place to train dogs who will be engaged in the war on illegal wildlife trade.
On completion of their nine-month long course the sniffer dogs will join existing squads already deployed across India and will bring the total number of India’s sniffer dogs to 68.
TRAFFIC’s wildlife sniffer dogs, popularly known as “Super Sniffers”, will be trained to detect tiger and leopard skins, bones and other body parts, bear bile, Red Sanders and other illegal wildlife products.
Dr. Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office said, “The response to TRAFFIC’s wildlife sniffer dog training programme in India has been overwhelming and this is reflected through the numerous requests received for training and deployment of wildlife sniffer dog squads from across the country. It is further encouraging to learn that the Customs department in India recognises the importance of wildlife sniffer dogs and has come forward to deploy them at the airports.”
According to TRAFFIC the new dog squads will be deployed by the Forest Departments of West Bengal, Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru and by Customs at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.
In Uttarakhand, the wildlife sniffer dog squad will be deployed at Pithoragarh, reported to be one of the most vulnerable locations for illegal wildlife trade where contraband including leopard skins, medicinal plants and cordyceps pass through to Nepal.
One endangered species being seriously trafficked in India is the pangolin, a small scaly mammal which is considered to be the most trafficked mammals in the world.
In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorized all eight species of pangolin on its Red List of Threatened Species, and now each species is now listed as being threatened with extinction.
Two pangolins species – the Indian Pangolin and the Chinese Pangolin – are found in India. Hunting and trade in both species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 while international trade is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
However, banning the trade of a species does not stop the illegal trade of a species. Especially when it comes to the illegal trade of the pangolin in India.
A 2018 TRAFFIC study revealed that at least 5,772 pangolins were found in illegal wildlife trade in India during the period 2009–2017; close to 650 pangolins every year since 2009. However, the study says this is a conservative estimate and as only a fraction of illegal wildlife trade is detected, the actual number is likely to be far higher.
“The number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade in India is of concern and without proper population estimates, the impact of such trade is unclear and could pose a significant threat to the species,” says Dr. Badola.
TRAFFIC officials are hopeful that sniffer dogs can impact the illegal trade of pangolins and they have reason to be optimistic.
In 2017 a sniffer dog named “Quarmy” cracked her first wildlife poaching case one week after finishing training. Quarmy was one of 13 dogs completing sniffer dog training at the National Training Centre in Tekanpur, Gwalior and according to TRAFFIC, a week after her deployment, officials from the northern range of Kaziranga National Park received information about an alleged wildlife poacher living in the region.
A team of rangers which included Quarmy and her handler were sent to investigate. Quarmy was able to detect and recover firearms, believed to be used for poaching local wildlife, hidden at the bottom of a pond over 2 km away. The alleged poacher was later apprehended and positively identified by Quarmy based on a matching scent.
Quarmy, the Super Sniffer Dog, did her part in helping to capture this illegal wildlife poacher.
And no doubt there will be many more stories just like Quarmy’s from TRAFFIC’s latest recruits of “Super Sniffer Dogs” as they are deployed on their mission to help save other species from becoming illegally traded into extinction.
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