When dogs simply have too much energy, when they are obsessed with toys or other objects, and no amount of exercise chills them out, they may become overwhelming for their owners. Sadly, this often leads to the surrender of the dog into the shelter system. Yet it is these very same traits that allows them to thrive when they have a detection career. Meanwhile, whole swaths of wildlife around the globe are being wiped out due to the illegal wildlife trade, which nets billions of dollars each year and rivals drug- and human trafficking in its scope.
A new partnership aims to address both of these issues by turning high-intensity dogs with boundless energy into working detection dogs, assisting in conservation efforts by locating otherwise hard to find wildlife and plants, identifying invasive species for eradication, finding direct threats to wildlife like illegal snares and poison, sniffing out illegal ivory and “bushmeat” (primates and other threatened species that are killed for food), and helping scientists gather wildlife population data.
The program provides a platform for rescue groups and conservation detection dog organizations and trainers to connect and communicate, as well as standardized evaluation tools for assessing a canine’s potential to be a working dog.
Says Pete Coppolillo, Executive Director of Working Dogs for Conservation, “Working with IFAW, we can have much larger impact on those unadopted dogs with the potential to save themselves by leveraging their characteristics to start a new, productive life saving wildlife.” Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, they advocate for the protection of wildlife and habitats.
“Conservationists and researchers in the field have long relied on working dogs to preserve wildlife and collect crucial data for conservation efforts,” adds Carson Barylak, campaigns officer for IFAW. “We are thrilled to partner with Working Dogs for Conservation to rescue dogs who will be invaluable partners in saving wildlife.”
Doing detection work is an outstanding way to channel a dog’s energy and prevent unnecessary surrenders. But most owners can avoid this heartbreak with consistent and responsible training.
Another win-win is the African Wildlife Foundation’s Conservation Canine Program, that trains dogs and handlers to monitor two epicenters of the ongoing African poaching crisis which has devastated elephant and rhino populations. Working with officials from the Kenyan Wildlife Service and Tanzania's Wildlife Division for the past two months, the detection teams will soon help patrol the ports of Dar and Mombasa.
Help from these extraordinary canines can’t come soon enough: Earlier this year Tanzanian officials admitted that nearly 60 percent of the country's elephants—about 85,000 animals—have been slaughtered in the past five years alone. Satao, one of the largest and most iconic elephants in the world, was killed last year with poison arrows, and the last surviving male northern white rhino, lives under 24-hour armed guard to protect him from poachers.
Will Powell, the director of the program tells the Huffington Post, “The bottom line, poaching here is a disaster.” AWF estimates that more than 188,000 kilograms of ivory have been smuggled through Mombasa since 2009, and the conservation group Save The Elephants estimates that the price of raw ivory tripled between 2010 and 2014. The material now fetches up to $2,100 a kilogram.
Putting the energy, drive, and nose-power of dogs to work may mean that future generations won’t only know about elephants and rhinos by reading about them on a website.
Photos courtesy of Working Dogs for Conservation.