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A newly deployed team of specially trained dogs have helped authorities in Tanzania seize a haul of elephant tusks, with conservationists hoping the canine allies can help significantly slow rampant poaching in the country.
The dogs – Jenny, a Belgian Malinois, and Dexter, an English springer spaniel – discovered the four tusks at a property following a tipoff. A man was taken into custody over the ivory haul, which was initially missed by wildlife officials but found “within a minute” by Jenny’s keen nose.
The bust follows an 18-month training program that involved dogs being selected by Wagtail UK, a dog training school based in Wales, and flown to Tanzania’s largest national park, Ruaha. The dogs and their handlers have been trained to detect ivory and guns stowed away by poachers who have ravaged Tanzania’s elephant population in recent years.
The project, run by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Tanzanian National Parks, hasn’t been without its challenges, with one of the first dogs brought over having died after being bitten by a tsetse fly.
But Dr Tim Davenport, WCS country director in Tanzania, said more dogs could be put into the field, as well as at airports and ports, to help curb poaching.
“It’s proving successful and we are considering bringing over a few more,” he said. “The challenge is to keep the dogs healthy and trained, but they can certainly help, it’s another tool we can use.
“Tanzanian National Parks are very much into the project, it’s going well. It’s only a matter of time before we start to directly track poachers as well as find ivory through dogs.”
Tanzania has one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and has become a target for poachers looking to supply the lucrative market for ivory in Asia. A census conducted last year found that the country lost a “catastrophic” 60% of its elephants in just five years, leaving Tanzania with around 43,000 pachyderms.
The country has also proved dangerous to humans battling the ivory trade. Roger Gower, a British helicopter pilot, was fatally shot by poachers in January as he was helping authorities track criminals.
Despite a global ban on the international trade of ivory, the black market in tusks for trinkets and medicines has led to fears that elephants could be wiped out in the wild. But Davenport said he hoped the poaching in Tanzania had “bottomed out” due to law enforcement measures and efforts to stem demand in China.