Fourteen young dogs and their 28 handlers joined India's wildlife dog force to combat wildlife crime and smuggling after completing a seven-month training programme. Wildlife sniffer dogs, popularly known as ‘Super Sniffers’, are part of the country's fight against wildlife crime.
Illicit trade of wildlife is the fourth most substantial organised criminal activity globally, threatening the survival of many wildlife species. In India, poaching for illegal wildlife trade is prevalent in some areas with the potential to have devastating impacts on targeted wildlife.
The latest unit of wildlife sniffer dogs passed out of the Basic Training Centre Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (BTC-ITBP) camp in Panchkula, Haryana, and is the ninth batch to be trained since the launch of TRAFFIC and WWF India's wildlife sniffer dog training programme in 2008. To date, 88 wildlife sniffer dog squads have been trained, according to a media statement from TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that operates as part of conservation organisation WWF India.
The dogs were taught to detect tiger and leopard skin, elephant tusk, skin, and antlers of spotted deer and sambar at the training institute. The dog handlers also learned how to train their dogs to identify other scents.
"This programme was carefully designed to accommodate both basic obedience and detection skills specifically to combat the illegal wildlife trade,” said the director of BTC-ITBP, Panchkula, in a media statement.
The training included conditioning techniques such as positive reinforcement through food and play. The dogs were exposed to various real-life search scenarios in both populated and forest areas. During the seven months at BTC-ITBP camp, activities included searches of rugged terrain, checkposts, luggage, parking lots and vehicles. The trainers used small-sized wildlife articles to accustom the dogs to find targets with low scent concentration in these complex environments.
Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC's India office, said, "The sniffer dogs trained under the programme are working relentlessly in tough terrains and have so far assisted the agencies in over 400 wildlife crime cases. The response from the forest departments to deploy and use Super Sniffers to control wildlife crime has been overwhelming.”
State forest departments, the Railway Protection Force and Customs departments in some zones have been deploying wildlife sniffer dogs to identify poached animal parts as well as smuggling of live wild creatures like tortoises and pangolins.
Three of the newly trained Super Sniffer squads will join the Maharashtra Forest Department; two will join the Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Odisha Forest Departments, and one will join the Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Two squads will be deployed by the Southern and West Central regions of Indian Railways under TRAFFIC's new alliance with the Railway Protection Force (RPF). Last year, RPF deployed two specialised wildlife sniffer dog squads for the first time in India to curb the smuggling of wildlife contraband through the extensive railway network.
Vinay Kumar Sharma, Assistant Sub-inspector, Gujarat Forest Department and a wildlife sniffer dog handler, said, "The training started from basics and then moved on to the advanced. In the beginning, I struggled to take care of a young dog, but eventually, Topsy and I have bonded for life.”