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Canines and Contraband

Sniffer dogs help to stop wildlife crime

Sniffer dogs—with their remarkable sense of smell—are increasingly part of a global effort to intercept illegal wildlife and wildlife products like ivory, rhino horns, sea turtles and pangolins smuggled through airports, shipping ports and public transportation centers.

WWF and TRAFFIC support sniffer dog programs as part of a continued commitment to fight wildlife crime. By addressing wildlife crime as a global network, we’re building the capacity to strengthen law enforcement efforts and deter traffickers.

sniffer dog on bags

WWF and TRAFFIC support sniffer dog programs in key wildlife trade hotspots in Africa and Asia. Following program success in countries like China and Russia, trials in East Africa are underway to determine which airports and seaports are best suited for long-term sniffer dog programs. Once identified, sniffer dogs and their handlers can be deployed to additional countries, including Mozambique and Kenya.


happy sniffer dog

Sniffer dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, as well as the ability to discriminate between the faintest odors. In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is almost one thousand times more sensitive than a human’s. This acute sense allows sniffer dogs to detect smells from both live species and raw materials despite smugglers’ efforts to mask odors.


sniffer dogs playing

These pups aren’t pets—they’re China’s first wildlife sniffer dogs. Jin Kai and Jin Li began service at China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport after passing tests to detect smuggled wildlife products on an airport luggage conveyor belt, inside a shipping container and within a package center.


sniffer dog and handler

Close bonds form between sniffer dogs and their handlers. Not only must they trust and understand each other, but sniffer dogs and their handlers must rely on each other too—the sniffer dog for commands and directions and the handler for cues and expressions.


sniffer dog and handler

Sniffer dogs are trained to identify illegal wildlife products through incentive programs which reinforce positive behavior. After a successful scent, sniffer dogs are rewarded with food or play, ultimately increasing their eagerness to discover contraband and making customs more effective.


sniffer do in action

Sniffer dogs increase efficiency for inspectors and customs officials, quickly scanning cargo, luggage and packages without the time-consuming need to open each crate, box or parcel.


sniffer dog at airport

Sniffer dogs identify hidden contraband by completing specific actions—often times sitting or lying down next to a suspicious package in order to alert their handlers.


sniffer dog at airport

WWF and TRAFFIC support the development of sniffer dog programs in a number of countries through collaboration with local authorities to determine priority airports and seaports for sniffer dogs to patrol. Sniffer dog programs promote collaboration among agencies, educate officers and governments and increase public awareness of illegal wildlife trade—all of which increase chances for successful seizures.


sniffer dog posing

Sniffer dogs are strengthening the cooperation and collaboration needed to tackle wildlife crime. Sniffer dogs may look cute, but their message is clear: they can’t be fooled. They are on a canine mission to stop wildlife crime.