By Naomi Nishihara
Sometimes the best man for the job isn’t a man, a woman, or even a human being. To enhance its capacity to combat illegal wildlife trafficking at ports in California, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently hired on a young English Labrador retriever with a superior sense of smell.
Lockett, a pure bread English lab, nearly two years old, has been trained to identify the scents of sea turtles, pythons, rhino horns and ivory—all animals or animal parts that are illegal to trade or whose trade is restricted.
According to Jill Birchell, special agent in charge of the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in the Pacific Southwest Region, Lockett was trained with three other canines in the USDA National Dog Detection Training Center in Georgia. Upon graduation, she was stationed with Service Wildlife Inspector Ray Hernandez in Los Angeles, to work primarily around Los Angeles ports of entry, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
“It’s one of the biggest ports in the country, and in terms of wildlife shipments LAX is the number one point of entry for live shipments to the United States,” said Birchell, adding that Service wildlife inspectors also screen shipments arriving by sea. “The Los Angeles sea port is the busiest container port in the United States. It’s huge. ”
Lockett was trained through a three month course, and the first couple of weeks were spent matching dogs to Service wildlife inspectors.
“From that point on we worked with our dogs and tried to hone in on certain skills, like how to search and how to read the dogs—their mannerisms and changes in their behavior,” Hernandez said.
Now on duty, Hernandez and Lockett routinely travel from location to location to sniff out wildlife that is being smuggled into or out of the United States. More....