News & Opinion | July 1, 2018 5:00 am

Newest, Low-Tech Weapon in the War Against Poaching: Dogs

African wildlife conservation group now employing canine units to track down abducted animals.

Two dogs being trained for tracking down rhino poachers works with a trainer at the at the Mechem Training Centre on July 11, 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Michelly Rall/Getty Images)
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Anti-poachers have a new weapon, but it’s not based on sophisticated machinery or computer software, it’s all about trust and a good sense of smell. To combat the killing and smuggling of protected species, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has started to use dogs to sniff out forbidden items of trade. That group’s new Canines for Conservation Program was motivated by the success of canine units in the military and police force. Since its launch in 2014, Canines for Conservation has helped facilitate more than 200 busts of poached merchandise and recover contraband like ivory elephant tusks, pangolin scales, and rhinoceros horns. Once the dogs pick up on the unfamiliar scent of wild animal in luggage or cargo, they signal their handler, who can then pass the luggage on to local officials. Canine squads are currently positioned at several ports and transport hubs around Africa, targeting vehicles at borders, shipping containers, and traffic at airports, reports Smithsonian Magazine. According to the latest figures, 22 of the 27 poaching busts made in Tanzania in the past 12 months can be attributed to canine teams turning criminals over to the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority.