See link for photo.
In a boot camp deep inside a local game reserve, an elite squad of four sniffer dogs is being trained for the fight against cross-border wildlife poaching.
Rising incidents of wildlife poaching especially for game meat and wildlife trophies have forced a number of parks, conservancies and even border exit points to beef up security to burst criminal activities.
Unlike human trackers who are limited by among others poor visibility, tracker dogs can pursue poachers and traffickers right from the scene of crime to their hideout through scent. Until they hit a legal obstacle.
Prosecutors are finding it difficult to have evidence produced by dog handlers admitted in court. In Kenya, such evidence is considered circumstantial or just an opinion.
Ms Florence Magoma, the head of prosecutions at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said many criminal cases involving wildlife collapse prematurely because of this. She said most prosecutors require good understanding of the procedures and depth of canine evidence required for it to be admissible.
“Sniffer dogs are properly trained and they have a high sense of smell which enables them to smell 12,000 different scents. They can never lead you to a wrong exhibit. In this case, the dog is just a tool helping its handler to retrieve evidence,” she added.
Although three cases have been won using canine evidence, she laments over a “big case” that was lost for lack of reliable evidence. “The court could not believe that the tracker dog was able to track the scent of the person who killed an elephant from about 20km from the crime scene,” said Ms Magoma.
To change the trend, she said the law needs to be reviewed so that the guidance of a tracker dog is considered as part of crucial evidence.
Mr Emmanuel Molai, an administrator at the Mara Triangle, whose unit uses tracker dogs to burst poaching rings along the Mara-Serengeti corridor, says they always try to arrest poachers with additional evidence such as weapons or game meat in order to present a strong case in court.
“If there isn’t any other exhibit, it becomes difficult to pin the suspect down in court,” said Mr Molai.
KWS is training its officers on handling of evidence to make it stand the test in court. The agency is also counting on sensitising court officers on the unique place of canine evidence in curbing poaching.
Under the law, a prosecutor should prove the qualifications of both the sniffer dog and its handler. Also important are the details of the process used in order to arrive at the evidence including how the dog was able to detect the evidence.
Furthermore, all the records such as the dog’s veterinary records and personal record of the handler must also be presented in court. These are important in convincing the court the evidence is reliable.
Besides canine evidence, prosecutors of wildlife crime use testimonies and exhibits collected from a scene of crime.