Dogs sniff out illegal wildlife in ongoing fight against smugglers

Dogs sniff out illegal wildlife in ongoing fight against smugglers
Wildlife Inspector Amir Lawal and Viper "hit target" during training exercise. Photo credit: Tom MacKenzie / USFWS.

Wildlife traffickers have something new to worry about - getting caught by one of the dogs that have been specially trained to sniff out smuggled wildlife.

Earlier this month, the first class of four 'wildlife detector dogs' and their handlers graduated from a 13-week training course to teach them how to search out protected species.

The training was held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia. The center normally trains dogs to sniff out fruits and plants that might have insects or diseases that could threaten the nation's agriculture.

The humans and their canine partners (the dog's names are Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket) will be stationed at key ports of entry around the country - Louisville, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"The recent rapid growth in the global trade in protected wildlife is pushing some species perilously close to extinction," Deputy Chief Ed Grace, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, said. "The battle to stop wildlife smuggling is one we simply cannot afford to lose, and using dogs and their phenomenal sense of smell to catch smugglers will give us a real leg up in this effort."

Of course, dogs are already used to detect things like illegal fruits and food products, bombs and drugs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this was the next logical step. And with threatened animal parts like elephant ivory and rhino horns becoming a growing trade, they needed another tool to help them stop the smuggling.

"This gives me a chance to combine my two great loves - wildlife and dogs," said Amir Lawal, one of the handlers who completed the training and was assigned to Miami's port. "I can't wait to get started in the field with my new partner to stop illegal wildlife shipments."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Video