Miami — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a message for would-be wildlife traffickers: There’s a new dog in town, and if you try to bring illegal wildlife parts into the country, there’s a good chance he’s going to sniff you out. And there are more just like him.
Last week, the first class of “wildlife detector dogs” and their
handlers graduated from training in searching for protected species. In
coming weeks, they will be stationed at key ports of entry around the
country, searching for wildlife smuggled across U.S. borders. The four
retrievers – named Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket – have been trained
as part of a national effort to stem the growing trade in threatened
animal parts such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.
“The recent rapid growth in the global trade in protected wildlife is
pushing some species perilously close to extinction. Elephant and rhino
populations in particular are declining at alarming rates,” said Fish
and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Ed Grace.
“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.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the nation’s wildlife laws,
such as the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, and is responsible
for U.S. enforcement of the Convention on the International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This agreement
between 178 countries restricts cross-border trade in protected wild
animals and plants, from elephants and rhinos to Brazilian rosewood and
Service inspectors monitor declared wildlife shipments and work to
intercept smuggled wildlife and wildlife products. Inspectors examine
imports and exports at U.S. international airports, ocean ports, border
crossings, international mail facilities, and FedEx and UPS processing
centers. Using dogs will give inspectors a whole new capacity to quickly
scan air, rail, and ocean cargo, as well as international mail and
express delivery packages, declared or not, without the time-consuming
need to open each crate, box, or parcel.
The four graduating dogs and their Service Wildlife Inspector-Handlers
completed the 13-week training course at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Ga., half
an hour southwest of Atlanta. The center normally trains detector dogs
to sniff out fruits and plants to interdict potential insects or
diseases that could hurt U.S. agriculture. For the Wildlife Inspector-Handlers, this is a new and exciting venture.
“This gives me a chance to combine my two great loves, wildlife and
dogs,” said Amir Lawal, Wildlife Inspector at the port of Miami. “I
can’t wait to get started in the field with my new partner to stop
illegal wildlife shipments.”