Kenya has introduced a pioneering anti-poaching technique involving specially-trained sniffer dogs to crack down on illegal shipments of ivory and rhino horns out of the country.
The dogs will sniff airs samples collected from suspected shipments using the technique called Remote Air Sampling for Canine Olfaction (RASCO).
Samples are taken using filters and then presented to the dogs who can sniff out illegal items within seconds, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service told CNN.
Paul Gathitu said the pilot scheme at the Mombasa port, a notorious route for illegal trafficking of ivory, has helped increase detection rates and made the process more efficient.
“Before now, we had to open shipments for the dogs to access the containers, but this new technique, we only take air samples from the vent in the shipment and present it to the canine unit, who within few seconds can spot those with illegal items,” Gathitu told CNN.
The technology is a collaboration between conservation group World WildLifeFund, wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the Kenya Wildlife Service.
WWF’s East Africa wildlife crime coordinator Drew McVey says the new system could be a “game changer” in the fight against illegal ivory trade between African countries and the overseas market.
“As organized criminal syndicates use ever more sophisticated methods to hide and transport illegal wildlife products, it is vital that we continue to evolve our efforts to disrupt the barbaric trade,” McVey told UK newspaper, The Independent.
All entry points in the country will soon have the new system, authorities in Kenya say.
Kenya’s wildlife population has been beset by poachers targeting lucrative markets in Asia in the last decade.
Around 30,000 elephants are slaughtered every year in Africa to satisfy international demand for ivory.
Their tusks are smuggled through African ports to countries in Asia including China, Thailand, and Hong Kong, where ivory is seen as a luxury item, the WWF said.
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Officials seized around 115 pieces of illegal elephant ivory packed in metal boxes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in 2011.
The shipment weighing 1,304 kilograms was headed to Lagos.
In 2016, Kenya destroyed more than $172 million worth of illegal elephant tusks and rhino horn, to combat it’s worsening poaching crisis.