Doggy nose best: New K-9 unit to sniff out trafficked wildlife

·Editorial Team
·2-min read
A dog from the NParks K9 Unit reacting to a positive identification of a wildlife product (PHOTO:NParks)
A dog from the NParks K9 Unit reacting to a positive identification of a wildlife product (PHOTO:NParks)

SINGAPORE — With a sense of smell up to 100,000 times more acute than that of humans and an ability to sniff out contraband that even radiographic scanners cannot, a group of specially trained canines in Singapore are set to play a key role in the war against the global illegal wildlife trade.

For the first time, Singapore will deploy wildlife detector dogs to unearth commonly trafficked wildlife and wildlife products such as elephant ivory and pangolin scales, said the National Parks Board (NParks) on Friday (27 August).

The new K9 Unit will enhance enforcement measures at Singapore’s borders.

A dog-handler team would be highly effective in searching for wildlife specimens in cargo or luggage, and better detect illegal wildlife products that travellers may attempt to smuggle through Singapore’s checkpoints, NParks said.

Separately, NParks has opened the country’s first Centre for Wildlife Forensics (CWF). It will draw upon expertise across NParks to identify and analyse specimens involved in the illegal wildlife trade. The CWF will also provide deeper insights on seized items, such as their geographical origins.

Such information can help international organisations and source countries to undertake further investigation and enforcement action against poachers and smugglers. It can also help identify potential linkages and syndicates involved in the illegal trade.

Since 1986, Singapore has been a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which ensures that the international trade in wildlife is carried out in a way that does not threaten their survival.

In 2020, British-based Traffic, which monitors the global wildlife trade, cited Southeast Asia as being at the heart of the illegal wildlife trade. It noted that large amounts of seized ivory and pangolin scales in Singapore implicate the city-state as a "notable transit hub" and urged the government to increase the penalties for such crimes. 

From 1 September, a ban on the domestic trade in elephant ivory will take effect. With this ban, the sale of elephant ivory and ivory products, and the public display of elephant ivory and ivory products for sale will be prohibited in Singapore. 

Anyone found violating the ban may be charged under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act. A person who is convicted may face a fine of up to $10,000 per specimen, not exceeding $100,000 in total, and/or up to 12 months’ jail.

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