The illegal trade in wildlife products and derivatives such as mongoose hair, snake skins, rhino horns, tiger and leopard parts, elephant tusks, shahtoosh shawls, and pangolin scales is a cause for concern.
And the use of sniffer dogs for wildlife crime prevention and detection is proving to be a game changer in India.
Six new German Shepherds, who have recently been inducted into the Indo Tibetan Police Force (ITBP), began their training for sniffing wildlife banned products at National Training Centre for Dogs and Animals (NTCDA) in Basic Training Centre in Panchkula, Haryana.
Inspector General, ITBP and Director, NTCDA (National Training Centre for Dog and Animals) Ishwar Singh Duhan, said: “The dogs are being trained using the latest training tools to master sniffing and tracking skills for the scent of various wildlife products. Training is being scientifically conducted using modern conditioning techniques, including positive reinforcement through food and play rewards.”
He added the dogs will be exposed to various real-life search scenarios in populated and forest areas. “We are confident that these new wildlife sniffer dogs will continue to help the enforcement officials curb illegal wildlife trade on completion of training.”
On completion of training, the wildlife sniffer dog squads will join the forest departments in three states – four in Karnataka and one each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. With this, the total number of wildlife sniffer dogs trained under Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) and WWF-India’s programme in ITBP will reach up to 94.
This will be the tenth batch of the programme with six young German Shepherd dogs, aged between six and nine months. Their 12 handlers have started their seven-month course at NTCDA.
The first few weeks of the training will focus on developing an emotional and trusting bond between the dog and the handler, which is crucial to becoming a successful wildlife sniffer dog. Later, the dogs will learn sniffing and tracking skills and be trained to detect tiger and leopard skins, bones and other body parts, bear bile, red sanders, and other illegal wildlife products.
Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India, said: “Using detection dogs in law enforcement is a proven practice as dogs are competent in combating crimes of varied nature because of their agility and excellent olfactory senses. TRAFFIC and WWF-India’s wildlife sniffer dogs, popularly known as Super Sniffers, play a crucial role in detecting and curbing illegal wildlife trade in India.”
Dr Merwyn Fernandes, Coordinator (TRAFFIC), said: “With just two wildlife sniffer dog squads in 2008, our programme has successfully trained 88 dogs, and now six more are under training. Twenty-one states and union territories have participated in this programme and have deployed trained sniffer dog squads to fight against wildlife crime. The programme has grown to become the largest in the country.”