Wildlife sniffer dogs, popularly known as 'Super Sniffers', have repeatedly proved their merit in India's fight against wildlife crime. On 20 November 2021, 14 young dogs and their 28 handlers completed a seven-month-long training course to join Bharat's growing wildlife sniffer dog force.
The latest unit of wildlife sniffer dogs passed out from the Basic Training Centre Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (BTC-ITBP) camp in Panchkula, Haryana, and is the ninth batch to be trained since the launch of TRAFFIC and WWF-Bharat's pioneering wildlife sniffer dog training programme in 2008. To date, 88 wildlife sniffer dog squads have been trained.
Director, BTC-ITBP, Panchkula Haryana, said, "This programme was carefully designed to accommodate both basic obedience and detection skills specifically to combat the illegal wildlife trade."
The dogs were taught to detect tiger and leopard skin, elephant tusk, skin, and antlers of spotted deer and sambar at the training institute. The dog handlers also learned how to train their dogs to identify other scents, allowing them to develop skills after the course ended.
Director, BTC-ITBP, Panchkula Haryana continued: "The training was scientifically conducted using modern conditioning techniques, including positive reinforcement through food and play rewards. The dogs were exposed to various real-life search scenarios in both populated and forest areas. I am fully confident that the newly trained wildlife dog squads will substantially help officials curbing the illegal wildlife trade."
During the seven months at BTC-ITBP camp, activities included rugged terrain training such as forests, check posts, during luggage search, parking lots, vehicles. The trainers used small-sized wildlife articles to accustom the dogs to find targets with low scent concentration in these complex environments.
Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC's Bharat Office, said, "The sniffer dogs trained under the programme are working relentlessly in tough terrains and have so far assisted the agencies in over 400 wildlife crime cases. The response from the forest departments to deploy and use Super Sniffers to control wildlife crime has been overwhelming."
He continued: "It is further heartening to see that other agencies such as the Railway Protection Force and Customs are interested in deploying wildlife sniffer dogs. We are hopeful that in the coming years, wildlife sniffer dogs will be used by even more enforcement agencies, who are mandated to protect and conserve Bharat's wildlife."
Three Super Sniffer squads will join the Maharashtra Forest Department; two will join the Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Odisha Forest Departments, and one will join the Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu Forest Department.
Two dog squads will be deployed by the Southern and West Central regions of Bharatiya Railways under TRAFFIC's newly formed alliance with the Railway Protection Force (RPF). Last year, RPF deployed two specialised wildlife sniffer dog squads for the first time in Bharat to curb the smuggling of wildlife contraband through the extensive railway network.
Speaking on behalf of the 28 handlers (two per dog), Vinay Kumar Sharma, Assistant Sub-inspector, Gujarat Forest Department and wildlife sniffer dog handler, said, "My training at (BTC-ITBP) camp in Panchkula has been very experiential and effective. I feel honoured to have been given this opportunity. The training started from basics and then moved on to the advanced training in these past seven months. In the beginning, I struggled to take care of a young dog, but eventually, Topsy and I have bonded for life. Topsy has grown to become an obedient and skilful wildlife sniffer dog.
"The trainers at the training centre and their involvement and support were crucial to our becoming wildlife sniffer dog squad. I am excited to return to my state of deployment along with Topsy and contribute towards curbing poaching and illegal wildlife trade," added Vinay Kumar Sharma.
Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary-General and CEO, WWF-India, adds, "Starting with just two wildlife sniffer dogs in 2008, today that number has grown 88. The dedication and commitment of the wildlife sniffer dog squads are admirable, and the dogs have been a game-changer in the efforts against wildlife crime. We wish the best of success to the 14 newly trained wildlife sniffer dog squads in their mission to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trade".