British dog duo to crack down on Thailand pangolin smugglers

Two Labrador dogs, trained by British police, will be flown out to Thailand in April to crack down on smugglers of critically endangered pangolins.

Buster and Bess, who are just under two-years old, will receive two-weeks of training in Thailand before they are officially deployed as sniffer dogs, tasked with disrupted the illegal trafficking of pangolins across south-east Asia.

Encompassing a diverse range of sub-species, stretching from South-East Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa, the pangolin is the most trafficked species in the world, with one pangolin being lost to poaching every five minutes.

Grant Miller MBE, Counter-Trafficking Advisor at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said: “Large numbers of pangolins are being poached up into Thailand where the meat is considered an exotic delicacy and attracts a sizeable amount of money.

“It’s not being trafficked into villages, it’s going to high-end restaurants, as it is considered a high-status product.”

Whilst relatively little is known of the pangolin’s life cycle, predecessors, or interactions within the ecosystem, it is known that the pangolin cannot be bred in captivity, making them an unsustainable source of meat.

As such, the goal of counter-trafficking campaigns is to intercept smugglers before the pangolins are killed so they can be returned to their natural habitat.

Pangolins, sometimes called “scaly anteaters”, are also poached for their scales, which are used to make fashion accessories.

The scales are believed to have medicinal properties which improve the quality of human breastmilk, although there is no scientific evidence of this being the case.

As sniffer dogs, Buster and Bess were selected for two characteristics: ‘High Play Drive’ and ‘People Neutrality’.

‘Play Drive’ refers to the dogs’ inclination to gain stimulation and satisfaction from being active, whilst ‘People Neutrality’ refers to the dogs’ personality; specifically, one which is neither hostile to, or easily distracted by, human interaction.

Miller said: “They wouldn’t be content sitting in front of a fire all the time; the real success and satisfaction they get comes from working.”

When asked about the importance of Buster and Bess’ counter-trafficking mission, Miller said: “Humanity can heal, just as much as it can damage. As such, being able to engage canines, man’s best friend, in protection of nature, feels appropriate and proper.”

ZSL partners with a variety of different institutions, from government agencies in Thailand to the Metropolitan Police. To learn more about the illegal pangolin trade, and ZSL’s efforts to end it, visit their website:

Featured Image Credit: Zoological Society of London

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