By Danna Harman
The Christian Science Monitor via COMTEX
July 2, 2001
NAIVASHA, KENYA - This month, ivory smugglers and poachers in Kenya
will face a new squad of crimefighters--Charlie, Blair, Megan, Mouser,
Jason, and Vicky--a pack of expatriate canines.
The labradors, German shepherds and collies--most of them former
London strays--had six months of training to learn to detect pieces
of ivory or rhino horn as small as half a centimeter and buried
as deep as a meter and a half under ground.
Though it's only a six-dog squad, Josiah Achoki, the Kenyan Wildlife
Service's assistant director of operations, says it will be effective.
"The smugglers know they don't stand a chance," he says.
The British Army provided the canines, training, and kennels. Kate
Hemmings, adviser to the British defense attache in Nairobi, says
the canine antismugglingunit is a modest pilot program. Further
care of the dogs and upkeep of the program will fall on the shoulders
of the KWS. "If it gets too big, it will be hard for them to
sustain," she says. "It is expensive, and so has to be
limited . . . but that said, it looks like a sure success, and we
hope it will grow."
Ivory trade was banned by the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989, in response to the mass slaughter
of elephants. A report last year by the Nairobi-based Save the Elephants
organization said that from 1979 to 1989, Africa lost over half
its elephants to the ivory trade, with Kenya losing 85 percent of
While the ivory ban dramatically reduced poaching and may have
saved the species from extinction, it did not fully stop the trade,
which has gone underground. Meanwhile, a relaxation of the ban between
1997 and 2000 allowed a small amount of ivory to be exported and
served to encourage more smuggling.
Most ivory is smuggled from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the
Central African Republic, Cameroon and Gabon westward to the ivory
carving centers of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Lagos in Nigeria and
Dakar in Senegal.
Kenya is a transportation hub--with traders and smugglers moving
ivory and horn from various African countries through Nairobi's
international airport and Mombassa's seaport en route to Europe
Much of the ivory eventually makes its way to Asia. In Japan, ivory
is used for making hankos, or personalized official stamps. In China,
many traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs call for ivory or rhino
The main retail buyers of ivory, says the Save the Elephants report,
are tourists from France, Spain, and Italy, diplomats and foreign
military, and United Nations and NGO personnel.
Save the Elephants officials say that UN workers, diplomats and
humanitarian aid workers are the worst abusers. North Korean diplomats,
meanwhile, were found to be among the biggest traffickers in ivory
in the 1990s, according to The Ivory Markets of Africa, a private
NGO study of the ivory trade in 13 African countries.
The total amount of illegal ivory seized since 1997 exceeds 13
tons, according to Save the Elephants.
The KWS reports that in 1999 Kenya seized more than 2 tons of illegal
ivory--four times the average seized in the previous six years.
Last year, a North Korean businessman was caught with 700 kilos
of tusk as he was boarding a plane, and a Romanian diplomat and
aPakistani peacekeeper were arrested in February as they tried to
take out ivory carvings.
Poaching in Kenya continues to rise, with criminals using AK47s,
bought cheaply on the Somali border, to shoot elephants, zebra,
eland, impala, hippos and buffalos. Tusks are sold, hides are used
to make drums or clothing, and the meat is eaten.
The Kenyan government has long relied only on KWS rangers and police
officers to catch poachers and smugglers. Last year, however, Kenya
decided that dogs could be man's best weapon against the violators.
The new canine team is split into two groups: one will sniff out
ivory and rhino horn at air and sea ports, while the other will
track down poachers in the country's national parks.
The dogs were trained in Britain--small pieces of ivory and rhino
horn were shipped out to the Leisterchire dog-training school so
the canines could practice. They arrived late last year in Kenya,
along with a year-long supply of their favorite British dog food
and two handlers from the British Army veterinary corps who helped
the KWS build a dog-kennel compound in Naivasha and also trained
Kalama Mlewa, one of 12 rangers chosen to be trained as a handler,
is in charge of Charlie, walking him four times a day, cleaning
his kennel, grooming him, continuing with training, and going out
on practice patrols.
"Seek on, seek on," he calls out to the dog, speaking
in a Scottish accent he picked up from the British trainers, as
he encourages his charge to look for a hidden piece of tusk. "That's
me good boy," he says, smiling as Charlie starts barking near
a blue knapsack in which the bait has been hidden. "That's
Copyright © 2001, Christian Science Monitor, all rights reserved.