By Teo Kermeliotis
From bombs to drugs, humans have long relied on dogs' astonishing sense of smell to sniff out danger. Now, our four-legged friends are also helping to combat poaching.
Meet Lumi and Cooper, two energetic, highly driven and undeniable cute canines that are Gabon's latest recruits in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.
The determined trackers are specially trained to use their nose for odor to detect endangered wildlife and plant species, such as ivory, leopard skin, shark fin, iboga tree products and primate meat.
Hard-working and obsessed with their tennis ball, which is their reward after a find, the four-legged detectives regularly sweep a number of pinch points in Gabon's capital of Libreville and its surroundings.
Accompanied by their trained handlers they search luggage at the international airport and do checks at the train station, they sniff containers at the city port and they are deployed at roadblocks, picking up scents inside vehicles.
"These dogs would work until they drop, they will do anything to get their tennis ball," says Ruth Starkey of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which provides technical support to the Gabonese National Park Agency (ANPN). "They are extremely energetic and very driven -- making quick work of previously arduous searches. It's the handlers that have to keep up and ensure the dogs' safety."
Louise Wilson, director and head of training at Wagtail UK, the detection dogs company that provided ANPN with Lumi and Cooper, says the sniffer dogs' biggest advantage is their ability to search fast, efficiently and without bias. More....