After identifying the suitcase containing wildlife contraband, a newly qualified detector dog is given a towel to play with as a reward. Inside the case Tiger bones have been concealed. © TRAFFIC
Ruili, Yunnan Province, China, 8th August 2013—China’s Customs authority now has detector dogs ready to assist in sniffing out wildlife trafficking after three fully trained labradors and their trainers were passed fit for service in the last week of July.
To qualify for the novel role in Chinese wildlife trade enforcement efforts, the three canines and their trainers underwent months of intensive training at Ruili Drug Detector Dog Base, part of the Anti-smuggling Bureau of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC).
Following the training, the dogs had to each pass a stiff test to locate wildlife products concealed in a variety of locations including a container, on an airport luggage conveyor belt and at a postal centre.
All three dogs passed the test by successfully detecting the hidden items, which included Tiger bones, ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales and live freshwater turtles, among other samples. These are all wildlife products commonly trafficked from South and South-east Asia to China across the border in south-west China’s Yunnan Province.
“TRAFFIC is very impressed to see the dogs have completed their training successfully and are ready for action,” said Dr Jianbin Shi, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Programme, which provided partial support to the training project.
“The deterrent effect of having trained detector dogs on patrol should not be underestimated—wildlife smugglers will be aware the dice are now heavily loaded in favour of them being caught.”
Initially the dogs are expected to be deployed to key airports and checkpoints in Yunnan Province.
“The use of detector dogs is a new approach in China to detect wildlife contraband and will increase our work efficiency on the front line,” said Jun Tan, Head of the Detector Dog Programme at the Anti-Smuggling Bureau, GACC.
A total of 20 representatives from GACC, Kunming Customs District of PRC, TRAFFIC and Guangxi Forest Police observed the dogs’ “graduation exam” at the training base, and afterwards attended a symposium on the training project and future plans to further develop the detector dog programme.
“Building on the success of this pilot project, we are willing to collaborate further with TRAFFIC to share the training knowledge and experiences with other enforcement agencies, including our counterparts in neighbouring countries, given that the Ruili base also serves as the WCO (World Customs Organization) Regional Dog Training Centre,” said Tan.
With TRAFFIC’s support, one of the dog handlers from Ruili, Mr Haifeng Lian, attended the International Workshop for Transboundary Conservation of Tigers and Other Endangered Species and the Strategy to Combat Illegal Trade in Wildlife, held in Kunming from 28-31 July.
At the workshop, Mr Lian presented An Exploration of Training Wildlife Detector Dogs by China’s Customs to more than 100 participants, most of whom were representatives from enforcement agencies from 12 out of 13 Tiger range countries, including several neighbours sharing terrestrial frontiers with China, namely: Bhutan, India, Lao PDR, Nepal, Russia, and Viet Nam.
“TRAFFIC is pleased to see that this training project has aroused interest from other enforcement agencies such as China’s Forest Police and those beyond China’s borders,” said Dr Shi.
“TRAFFIC believes the success of this training project will mark the beginnings of using detector dogs as a cornerstone for improving wildlife enforcement capacity in China and beyond.”
The use of wildlife detector dogs has been recognized as a highly effective tool in combating illegal wildlife trade by government parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
TRAFFIC initiated co-operation in training detector dogs with GACC in 2011 following a workshop held in Beijing attended by global experts in the use of wildlife detector dogs. It led to the training of the first three labradors.
TRAFFIC’s detector dog training programme in China has been generously supported by WWF Germany and WWF International.
Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC Global Communications Co-ordinator
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