U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service graduates new class of Wildlife Detector Dogs

The newest class of four Wildlife Detector Dogs — Dock, Dutton, Hanna and Smokey and their human partners graduated and will soon spread out across the nation to some of the busiest ports of entry for wildlife trade. There they will get to work conserving species like elephant, rhino, alligator and more.

The USFWS Wildlife Detector Dogs are mostly “recruited” from shelters. They and their inspector handlers complete a training course at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia. But instead of learning to sit or shake, these dogs are learning to “key” in on various scents.


In April 2013, the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement deployed its first cadre of professionally trained wildlife detector dog teams at four of the Nation’s busiest ports of entry for wildlife trade: Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, and Chicago. Inspection K9s Locket, Butter, Viper, and Lancer spent their first weeks on the job getting accustomed to their new workplaces—settings that include air cargo warehouses, ocean containers, international mail facilities, U.S./Mexico border crossings, and the U.S. “hub” for the international package delivery company UPS.

But the dogs and their wildlife inspector handlers have been more than busy since then.

What have they found? Here are a few examples:
A cargo shipment packed with 15 live birds, including CITES-listed species, headed out of Miami; an elephant skin in Los Angeles; more than $26,000 worth of falsely labeled CITES Appendix II python skin handbags being shipped via UPS in Louisville; and a commercial shipment of shark cartilage powder imported from South America to Miami.

For Wildlife Detector work, the “ideal” dog is between one and three years old, has a high food drive, and is energetic, nonaggressive, and outgoing. A Wildlife Detector Dog’s career typically lasts 5 to 7 years.

Using the Wildlife Detector Dogs to sniff out hidden wildlife products expands the USFWS inspection capabilities.

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