In Benin, we’re training detection dogs to help us disrupt trafficking networks.
Throughout West Africa, poachers kill pangolins, turtles, elephants and other wildlife. The animals’ body parts are then smuggled by ship or plane to markets in both Asia and Europe.
Detection dogs—like the ones you see at the airport—can “sniff out” shipments of animal parts in the same way that police dogs detect narcotics. IFAW offered the Beninese government to expand the security mission of the K9 Brigade in Cotonou to include the detection of protected wildlife specimens, but there were no established programs or best practices for training detection dogs in West Africa.
We developed a wildlife crime detection training program for dog units in the city of Cotonou.
While incorporating best practices and high animal welfare standards, the program allows dogs to become an integral part of the solution for disrupting the illegal wildlife trade. Often, this is the first time handlers have ever worked alongside detection dogs, so they too learn a lot about how to observe, monitor and take care of them. Once trained, units will deploy to strategic locations like ports, airports, border crossings, and the boundaries of protected wildlife habitats.
In this first project period, as agreed with the Beninese government, we have focused on renovating and modernizing the existing K9 Brigade facility, which included new and improved dog kennels, veterinary facilities, training areas, and office facilities. We also selected seven out of eight intended dogs, some of whom come from local communities and two of whom were transferred from French shelters. To drive the detection dogs, four volunteering police officers were selected and another four officers will be selected from the Water and Forest department. All officers and dogs will receive continuous training throughout the project.
To increase our impact, we also work together with several partners that support the development of IFAW’s training program. Morin offers a reduction if we purchase any dog equipment, Almo Nature graciously provides the food for the detection dogs of the brigade, and Ceva Santé Animale very kindly provides adapted veterinary products. In addition, the first year of our work was co-funded by the Elephant Crisis Fund. Lastly, in Benin we work together with local NGO Nature Tropicale who provide judicial training to the handlers that are being trained by IFAW. Stay tuned for updates and stories on how the dogs and their handlers are doing!
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