Published 26 January 2011

Bigger bite of the action for EU sniffer dog programme

Brussels, Belgium, 26th January 2011—a 28 month long pilot scheme initiated by WWF Germany/TRAFFIC using sniffer dogs to detect wildlife products smuggled through Frankfurt airport has proved so successful, it is to be extended Europe-wide.

A successful wildlife detector dog programme in Germany is to be extended Europe-wide. © Andreas Eistert / WWF

The expanded scheme will see the dogs used to detect smuggled wildlife in all Europe’s major airports, seaports and major postal distribution centres. 

During the trial period from September 2008 to date, wildlife detector dogs have uncovered pieces of highly endangered animal species including sturgeon caviar, elephant ivory, marine turtle shells, and reptile skins and leather goods. Even a bear skull and its skin were detected.

“The expanded sniffer dog programme will serve as a powerful deterrent to discourage would-be smugglers at the region’s borders and will also be used to raise public awareness of wildlife trade laws and regulations,” said Birgit Braun, Co-ordinator of the Wildlife Detector Dog Project.

The project will explore the full range of use of wildlife detector dogs within the EU and aims to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between such programmes and interested EU Member States. 

WWF Germany will present information on the project, which is funded by the European Commission Directorate-General for Home Affairs (DG Home Affairs), at a three day global forum on the use of detector dogs and handler teams in enforcement operations taking place this week in celebration of World Customs Organization Day on 26th January. 

DG Home Affairs also funded a recently concluded, highly successful three-year project on strengthening the capacities of law enforcement officers and judicial authorities in the fight against wildlife crime. 

Through this project, WWF in collaboration with TRAFFIC, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), UK Customs and other governmental partners helped train more than 500 enforcement officials from 26 European countries. 

The main aim was on strengthening regional collaboration, in particular amongst EU and neighbouring countries such as Belarus, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and the Ukraine. 

Enforcement officers learn how to tell whether reptiles are captive bred as often claimed, or wild-caught. © UK Border Agency

Capacity-building workshops covered issues such as illegal trade in reptiles, timber and traditional Asian medicines (TAM) and included training in species identification, CITES legislation and the use of EU-TWIX—the EU Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange facility run by TRAFFIC. 

The enhanced co-operation and improved data exchange helped contribute to the success of a number of seizures, including preventing the illicit import of large quantities of TAMs into Latvia in 2009.

Training modules on implementation and enforcement of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations developed by a team of enforcement experts from six EU-countries, representing bodies such as CITES Management Authorities, Customs and specialist inspectorates and TRAFFIC were also used to train over 230 enforcement officials from seven EU Member States: Belgium, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Malta during the project. The composition of the participants of the training seminar in Slovakia was of particular note, due the high number of judges and prosecutors present. 

“Europe has strong, but complex wildlife trade regulations. With legal wildlife trade into the EU alone worth in the region of 100 billion Euro per year, it does attract criminal elements,” said Rob Parry-Jones, Regional Director of the TRAFFIC Europe Programme. “Investment in training enforcement officers and expanding the use of sniffer dogs are imperative steps to keep on top of illegal wildlife trade.”