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Illegal ivory trade is at an all-time high, with poachers killing tens of thousands of African elephants each year in order to strip them of valuable ivory tusks. So how can two homeless dogs from Montana help put a stop to it?
Steve and Ruger are a pair of black Labs that, just a few months ago, were homeless shelter dogs. By the end of the week, however, the pair will be hunting for ivory in Zambia, Africa, sniffing out poachers and halting illegal trade routes.
It’s all thanks to Working Dogs for Conservation, an organization that trains dogs to use their incredible sense of smell for good. They’ve taught dozens of dogs over the years, in everything from sniffing out Orca skat to invasive plant species – all in the name of conservation.
For three months, the dogs have been training to search vehicles for ivory.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported,
Three-year-old Ruger, found on a Montana reservation, is almost blind so he searches methodically, going from car to car, sniffing almost every part before moving on.
One-year-old Steve, whose owner died suddenly of cancer, is more high-energy but will sit stock-still and expectant once he’s found his target.
Since their reward is being allowed to play, the dogs were trained to the scent of ivory by first finding their chew-toy placed behind a piece of ivory.
Eventually, they can search for the ivory itself and are taught to sit when they find it. They are immediately rewarded with their toy.
The following video shows just a little bit of the extensive training performed by Working Dogs for Conservation to teach Steve and Ruger how to sniff out ivory and alert their handler. As you can see, an intense toy drive is an excellent trait in successful detection dogs.
WDC co-founder and one of the dogs’ trainers, Megan Parker, will join Steve and Ruger in Zambia for about a month, making sure the boys adjust and training their new handlers. Over the next 10 years, while the dogs are working, WDC will periodically visit and check in on the dogs and their training and care.
They plan to eventually also teach the dogs to sniff out ammunition and weapons, to catch poachers on their way into the area, before they’ve had a chance to slaughter elephants, in addition to catching them on their way out of the area with ivory.