|Wildlife Inspector Amir Lawal of the Service’s Miami Law Enforcement Office and his canine partner, Viper, check packages on a conveyor belt during training. Credit: Tom MacKenzie/USFWS|
Ed Grace, Deputy Chief of our Law Enforcement Office, shares some exciting news:
Dogs never cease to amaze me – whether they are sniffing out bombs, providing eyes or extra hands for their partners, flushing out pheasant or retrieving waterfowl for hunters, or providing that 24-7 friendship only dogs can. I recently saw that our Southwest Region had used dogs trained to sniff out Jemez salamanders.
That’s why I am so excited to welcome the newest employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Wildlife Detector Dogs Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket.
They are part of our latest effort to fight the rising international black market in endangered animal parts – a callous and brutal trade that drives its victims closer to extinction. Much of the illegal wildlife trade passes across U.S. borders and we do stop much of it.
In 2012 alone, we inspected more than 180,000 shipments of wildlife and wildlife products, and successfully executed one of the largest investigative operations ever mounted by the Service – Operation Crash – which broke a global rhino horn smuggling ring.
But our field officers are stretched thin. The federal budget sequestration prevents us from hiring additional wildlife inspectors who could help stem the illegal trade. Meanwhile, the trade in illegal wildlife products is growing rapidly, attracting organized crime syndicates eager for a share of this multibillion-dollar corruption.
The illegal global trafficking in elephant ivory and rhino horn, for example, is nearing an all-time high, and is now the single biggest immediate threat to these species’ survival.
The Wildlife Detector-Dog Program provides us with a tremendous opportunity to dramatically increase our effectiveness and regain lost ground in combating wildlife crime. With their handlers, these dogs and their acute sense of smell and eager sense of duty can check thousands of packages every day without the need to open them.
For any smugglers reading this blog, the simple message is we will catch you.
After their graduation Thursday, the dogs and their human partners – all current Service employees – will start inspection work in about 30 days primarily at ports in Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, and a UPS facility in Louisville, all wildlife importation and smuggling hubs.
We will be watching the results of this pilot program closely. If it proves to be as successful as we think it will, it may be expanded, or the teams could re-deploy to cover other ports.
Now, we can say we have a literal dogged determination to track down illegal wildlife products wherever they are hidden.
Good luck, Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket. You are well on your way to becoming not just man’s best friend but also the best friend of elephants, rhinos and other endangered species.