Monday, March 7, 2011

Sniffer dogs to act as deterrent against wildlife crime


Meenal Dubey / New Delhi

Jackie, Jimmi and Raja are not the kind who waste their time chasing unsuspecting cats or gnawing a juicy bone. Instead, they prefer nipping the shins of outlaws who have made the mistake of smuggling animal body parts under the wary eyes of the enforcement agencies. These feisty canines are a part TRAFFIC India’s ambitious initiative of strengthening detection of wildlife trade using trained dog squads.

In a scenario, where 700 wildlife cases are registered annually and the conviction rate is less than 2 percent, the role of enforcement agencies becomes vital. Wildlife experts feel that this move of introducing a canine unit, could be a big boost to tackle wildlife crime. Ravi Singh Secretary General and CEO WWF India said, “We see the sniffer dogs as game changers in the fight against illegal wildlife crime, if they are used judiciously and to their full potential. I am sure this is the beginning of many more such successful operations.”

“Illegal wildlife trade has evolved into an organized transnational activity threatening the survival of many species in India,” said Samir Sinha, Head – TRAFFIC India,a trade monitoring network and a program division of WWF India. TRAFFIC has helped establish sniffer dog programmes to detect smuggled wildlife parts in several countries including in the Russian Far East and Europe. “We are overwhelmed by the support and response this programme has received from the forest department and are especially grateful for the contribution of the ITBP and 23rd Battalion of Special Armed Forces, M.P. Police.”

This pioneering initiative was launched last year in India where two dogs and their handlers were trained in sniffing out tiger and leopard skins, bones and bear bile and it was successfully completed at the National Dog Training Centre, ITBP in Panchkula. They were then posted to the states of Haryana and Uttarakhand to assist enforcement agencies. Encouraged by this endeavour, TRAFFIC India supported the training of 5 more dogs in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. These five dogs completed their training successfully at the Dog Training Centre and passed out this July in a glittering passing-out-parade.

These three states have been chosen based on the high level of illegal wildlife trade and involvement of nomadic communities like the Pardhis who inhabit these areas and are well known for their role in the trade. The high degree of interest shown by the state Forest Departments in this programme was also very valuable.

Dr. H.S. Pabla, Principal Conservator of Forests, Madhya Pradesh further added, “Today, Tigers in India need protection like never before. Any effort to strengthen protection will prove useful. We are confident the sniffer dogs programme, which has proved successful in curbing illegal wildlife trade in other countries, will further strengthen enforcement efforts in India.”

Each such dog has a primary handler who is assisted by a secondary handler. They bond over a period of nine months which involves a rigorous training period where response to a command is of utmost importance.

The most vital training includes two steps. Firstly, an animal is familiarized with animal parts like tiger or leopard skin and bones. They are made to smell them on regular intervals. This is followed by a rigorous training schedule where these animal parts are hidden in a suitcase, vehicles like cars, buses and railway carriages or buried into the ground. The animals get a special treat on successful detection.

However, the biggest challenge is detecting animal parts from a suitcase and also nabbing the person carrying it. They are also trained to check criminals in case they try to flee.

The trainers concede that regardless of countless treats, the real show stealer while training these dogs is a reassuring word or a pat on the back. “Dogs are like children. If you don’t reassure them, they tend to be moody or get into a sulk. The real indicator of a successful detective canine is actually an obedient and happy dog,” concludes a trainer.

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