Portrait of Diva, a trained sniffer dog with Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) © Juozas Cernius / WWF-UK

wildlife sniffer dogs the dogs fighting back for wildlife

Portrait of Diva, a trained sniffer dog with Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) © Juozas Cernius / WWF-UK


the super sniffers standing up to wildlife crime

Meet the four-legged recruits doing their bit in the fight against wildlife crime …

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, capable of picking up the tiniest traces of illicit wildlife products in shipping containers, airports, and in the field. As part of our work developing new technologies and approaches to fighting illegal wildlife trade, we’re working with WWF and authorities in India, Kenya, and beyond to harness the incredible potential of wildlife sniffer dogs.

66 sniffer squads

have been trained so far in India alone

Robin Sawyer, TRAFFIC Programme Officer

instinct-driven solutions, such as through using sniffer dogs, are often an impactful and cost-effective wildlife conservation approach

Robin Sawyer, TRAFFIC Programme Officer

sniffing out the smugglers

Wildlife detector dogs are proving invaluable in the fight against wildlife crime, and are already being used in a variety of ways.

From anti-poaching units helping rangers in National Parks in Africa and India, to tracking wildlife contraband in airports, highly-trained sniffer squads are helping to stop poachers and traffickers in their tracks.

A wildlife sniffer dog searches postal sacks at an airport warehouse


sniffer dog work in INDIA


The wildlife sniffer and tracker dog training programme was started in India in 2008 by TRAFFIC's India Office with support from WWF-India. Since then, the trained dogs, known as Super Sniffers, have proven highly successful in seizing wildlife products from smugglers and catching poachers in the act. 

So far, 94 sniffer dogs have been deployed in 19 provinces in India, with more being trained at three separate training centres. In the field, these dogs have adapted their skills sets to fighting wildlife crime and are detecting an array of wildlife parts and derivatives in trade, including tiger, elephant, and rhino products, deer meat, live birds, snakes, porcupines, red sanders, turtles, and tortoises.

To date, these super sniffers have been central in bringing about over over 400 wildlife crime cases, with more being trained right now.

sniffer dog deployment and training

66 "Super Sniffer" dog squads have been deployed across India and are now in active duty doing their bit for wildlife.

The first phase of training begins when dogs are aged between six and nine months. The dogs are allotted to their personal handlers where they bond and build a trusting and close relationship. Strategic exercises cement this bond, teaching the recruits how to navigate intense situations and respond to specific instructions.

In the second phase of training the dogs begin to learn skills in how to detect wildlife crime situations, including how to identify illicit products and apprehend poachers in the act. The final stage of training further develops these skills and sees them investigate wildlife crime scenes where they are rewarded for successful work. At this point, the dogs are ready to enter the field and work to fight wildlife crime!

Sniffer dog squads at a passing out ceremony © TRAFFIC


sniffing out contraband in containers


Detecting smuggled wildlife is an ongoing challenge for Customs and law enforcement.

Finding hidden ivory or pangolin scales in one of thousands of 40-foot shipping containers is like finding a needle in a haystack. TRAFFIC, working in partnership with WWF, has successfully tested the use of a vacuum pump technology that collects vapour traces from containers, samples of which are then taken to trained dogs to determine if contraband is present.

However, this technology is expensive to implement. TRAFFIC and partners are developing an affordable alternative that uses locally-sourced materials to allow for this vacuum system to be implemented more widely in source countries. Ultimately, the outcomes of the project will allow port agencies to be able to build their own systems and train their drug dogs for wildlife detection, sniffing out illegal wildlife products hidden within thousands of shipping containers.