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A Talk on the Wild Side.

In Dogged Pursuit of Poachers: Canines Combat Wildlife Crime in Africa

Conservation Dogs
A patrol dog, handler and ranger demonstrate their abilities to track a mock poacher in Ol Jogi, Kenya. Photo credit: Matt Muir/USFWS


Today's blog comes from Dr. Matt Muir, a wildlife biologist with the Service's International Affairs Program.

As part of my work for our Division of International Conservation, I help support anti-poaching efforts to protect wildlife in foreign countries. This important work now has a high profile as it supports two of the three strategic priorities of the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking released by President Obama in February 2014. These are developing capacity to strengthen enforcement and facilitating partnerships to develop and implement innovative and effective methods to combat wildlife trafficking on the ground. 

One of the tools increasingly touted as innovative and effective to combat wildlife crime in Africa is the use of conservation dogs. At the field level, conservation dogs can be trained to help detect and investigate wildlife crime. In other roles, they provide safety to the rangers they accompany -- an important benefit to a high-risk job. Once the crime has been committed and trafficking is underway, conservation dogs can be used to detect wildlife products that have entered the supply chain.

Conservation Dogs

A handler and conservation dog demonstrating their abilities in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photo credit: Matt Muir/USFWS

Since 1999, the Service has supported conservation dog projects, via its Multinational Species Conservation and regional wildlife grants programs, in five African countries. With increased urgency to counteract wildlife poaching and trafficking, it is important to learn from conservation dog projects on the ground about what’s working and what can be improved in the future. 

Conservation Dogs
A conservation dog checks for firearms under a vehicle during a gate demonstration at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Photo credit: Matt Muir/USFWS

As such, I was thrilled be invited to travel to Kenya and South Africa last month to participate in a review of conservation dog projects across Africa. Dr. Megan Parker, Director of Research for the non-government organization Working Dogs for Conservation, led the project assessment. It was a whirlwind trip -- we visited nine projects in nine days across two countries. Each project was working under unique local circumstances, but certain challenges were common across sites – such as the difficulty of detecting clues in a crime site that is contaminated by other wildlife or people.

Conservation Dogs

A ranger and conservation dog from the Mara Conservancy in Kenya search for a scent in the middle of the wildebeest migration—an example of the challenges encountered by projects, including contamination by wildlife.Photo credit: Matt Muir/USFWS

Formal recommendations will follow in the coming months. We hope that these will help to increase success in current and future projects employing conservation dogs, already a rapidly expanding tool in the fight against wildlife poaching and trafficking. 

NOTE: An earlier version of this blog incorrectly read:

"Our project assessment was co-led by Chris Aycock, President of the American Society of Canine Trainers, and Dr. Megan Parker, Director of Research for the non-government organization Working Dogs for Conservation."

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