It's animals helping animals when it comes to the crisis of poaching in Africa. The rampant, ceaseless poaching of elephants for ivory may have, at long last, met it's match—and it stands on four legs. Over the past few years, tracker dogs have teamed up with anti-poaching enforcement units in the fight against poachers throughout Africa.
It's a widely known fact that poaching has been detrimental to the welfare and very existence of elephants. Despite countless efforts to thwart poaching and ivory trade missions, the number of elephant deaths at the hands of poachers is still critically high. IB Times reported in 2015 that due to poaching, a staggering 35,000 African elephants are killed each year—that translates to nearly 100 elephants being killed, every day. The rapid rate at which they are being hunted and killed for their ivory leaves the African elephant population in grave danger.
Enter: tracker dogs. Highly trained, efficient, and effective, tracker dogs give us hope that justice will soon be served—as they zero in on poachers who contribute to what the European Commission deems the “fourth largest illegal business in the world.”
For years now, tracker dogs have been used “in the field,” so to speak. These dogs accompany law enforcement near common poaching grounds, like national parks, and sniff out contraband during checks on the road. Their keen sense of smell and agility make dogs a sought after partner for contraband searches.
Let's focus on their far superior sense of smell for just a moment. “A human has about 5 million scent glands whereas dogs have 125 million to 300 million (depending on breed),” according to Puppy PlayGround, this means that “their sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000,000 times better than humans!”
Putting it into perspective, on the ground, a dog can pick up the scent of a poacher just from their footprint. In some cases, this means the tracker dogs can actually follow a trail left by poachers—leading officers straight to them. (Check out an incredible story of two tracker dogs in Tanzania who did just that, here.)
Working Dogs for Conservation's executive director, Pete Coppolillo, speaks to the animals' abilities in comparison to those of humans. Quoted by The Guardian Coppolillo said, “It takes humans an hour or more to search a car, whereas it takes dogs three to four minutes.” As you can imagine, timing is everything. The sooner a check is completed, the sooner animals and officers can move on to the next—collectively covering more ground as a team.
In Zambia, trained tracker dog Ruger is being deemed a hero for his efforts in the field. According to People, Ruger has been responsible for countless arrests, putting “150 African poachers out of business.” Ruger stands out among the crowd for his accomplishments as well as for his fight for life, and interesting background. The only dog from his litter to escape being shot, his determination appeared evident early on.
Initially, Ruger was actually thought to be a “bad” dog—a bit troublesome, and not very friendly towards people. Megan Parker, director at Working Dogs for Conservation (alongside aforementioned Pete Coppolillo) took a liking to Ruger, seeing his potential. While Ruger certainly deserves praise for all that he's accomplished, so to do the efforts of the people behind him, and his training.
The addition of a new team of dogs taking up residence in airports in Tanzania brings to light the rigorous training process they must go through—alongside their handlers. Handlers from Tanzania traveled to El Paso, Texas to complete a 10 week long course with the dogs, which, according to the New York Times, took place at the United States Customs and Border Protection's canine training center. Upon returning to Tanzania, both dogs and handlers continued with a “follow-up” course.
As the New York Times reports, four dogs have been brought in to be a part of the anti-poaching team at Julius Nyerere International Airport and the Port of Dar es Salaam in an effort to stop the import and export of illegal goods. This group of dogs are the first of their kind—trained specifically to detect “illegal wildlife products in shipping cargo and airport luggage.”
With the combined anti-poaching efforts of both humans and dogs we can hope to see a change in the amount of senseless, ivory-fueled, elephant killings in the near future.