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

wildlife sniffer dogs the dogs safeguarding our wild species

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


Meet the super sniffers defending wild species from crime

These four-legged recruits are making a real impact in the ongoing efforts to combat crimes against wild species.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, capable of picking up even the tiniest traces of wild species in illicit products across shipping containers, airports, and the field. In our efforts to develop new ways to combat illegal trade, we’re working with WWF and authorities in India, Kenya, and beyond to unleash the remarkable abilities of wildlife sniffer dogs.

94 sniffer squads

are deployed with forest departments and railways protection force in India

sniffing out the smugglers

Wildlife detector dogs are proving invaluable in tackling wild species crimes.

They’re working in various ways, from helping rangers in National Parks in Africa and India catch poachers to detecting illicit products derived from wild species in airports.

These highly trained sniffer squads are essential in stopping poachers and traffickers in their tracks and ensuring justice for our wild species.

A wildlife sniffer dog searches postal sacks at an airport warehouse


WILDLIFE sniffer dogs at work in INDIA

The training programme began in India in 2008, initiated by TRAFFIC's India Office with support from WWF-India. Known as Super Sniffers, these dogs have been highly successful in seizing wild species contraband from smugglers and catching poachers in the act.

So far, 94 sniffer dogs have been deployed across 19 provinces in India, and more are being trained at three different centres. Much like with detecting drugs or explosives, these dogs use their incredible sense of smell to detect various wild species parts and derivatives in trade, including those from tigers, elephants, and rhinos, deer meat, live birds, snakes, porcupines, red sanders, turtles, and tortoises.

So far, these Super Sniffers have played a leading role in over 400 cases of crimes against wild species.


sniffer dog deployment and training: from puppies to protectors

Each sniffer dog embarks on an essential training journey before stepping into their crucial role of protecting wild species.

The initial training phase starts when the dogs are between six and nine months old. During this time, they are paired with personal handlers to build a strong and trusting bond. Strategic exercises reinforce this bond, teaching the recruits to handle challenging situations and respond to specific commands.

In the second training phase, the dogs focus on learning skills related to detecting crimes against wild species, such as identifying illicit products and apprehending poachers. In the final stage of training, their skills are sharpened as they investigate crime scenes. As any student should, the trainees receive rewards for their good work.

Once the training is complete, the dogs are ready to enter the field and fulfil their duty of protecting threatened wild species!

Sniffer dog squads at a passing out ceremony © TRAFFIC


sniffing out contraband in containers

Detecting smuggled products derived from wild species remains a constant challenge for Customs and law enforcement. Picture the daunting task of trying to locate concealed ivory or pangolin scales within one of thousands of 40-foot shipping containers - it's no small feat!

In collaboration with WWF, TRAFFIC has successfully tested vacuum pump technology. This tool collects vapour traces from containers, and trained dogs then examine the samples to determine if contraband is present.

However, implementing this technology can be expensive. With partners, TRAFFIC is developing an affordable alternative, utilising locally-sourced materials. The aim is to make this vacuum system more widely accessible in source countries to enable port agencies to build their own systems and train their sniffer dogs to detect concealed products derived from wild species.

Equipped with this technology and guidance from our Super Sniffers, port agencies can enhance their efforts to seize illegal products, discouraging traffickers. Putting a stop to these unlawful activities is key to safeguarding our wild species from overexploitation and allowing nature to thrive.