Super sniffer training to protect cheetahs from poachers in Kuno

Updated on Sep 29, 2022 04:41 AM IST

A five-month-old German Shephard being trained by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police at Bhanu has made it to the elite K9 squad that will protect the eight newly introduced cheetahs at Kuno National Park from poachers

Ilu (extreme right) and the five canines, who are being trained to protect wildlife at different national parks, sanctuaries and wildlife reserves, with their trainers at ITBP’s National Training Centre for Dogs and Animals in Bhanu, Panchkula. (SANT ARORA/HT)
Ilu (extreme right) and the five canines, who are being trained to protect wildlife at different national parks, sanctuaries and wildlife reserves, with their trainers at ITBP’s National Training Centre for Dogs and Animals in Bhanu, Panchkula. (SANT ARORA/HT)
By, Panchkula

Naughty, clever and agile: this is how her handler describes “super sniffer” Ilu – a five-month-old German Shephard being trained by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police at Bhanu – who has made it to the elite K9 squad that will protect the eight newly introduced cheetahs at Kuno National Park from poachers.

The four-legged soldier, is one of the six “super sniffer dogs” being trained to protect the wildlife in India at the ITBP’s National Training Centre for Dogs and Animals (NTCD) at Bhanu. Ilu will be posted at Kuno National Park with her handler, Sanjeev Sharma, a forest guard, after another 10-12 months of training.

Sharma, who named the canine, Ilu, because of her lovable nature, says, “She is family. We spend around 16 hours together.”

Illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a major threat for endangered species such as tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos and cheetahs in India. “Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. This unique ability has been of tremendous help in detecting poaching and illegal trade,” says ITBP inspector general of police Ishwar Singh Duhan.

In a bid to check rampant poaching and wildlife trafficking, Traffic, a non-governmental organisation, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had launched the country’s first wildlife sniffer dog training programme at Bhanu in 2008. The centre, one of the only two in the country, has so far trained 16 sniffer dogs to protect wildlife. Six German Shepherds, including Ilu, are currently training for the same.

Three to five-month-old dogs are sent to the centre for training with their handlers, with whom they spend the rest of their working lives (8-10 years). (HT File)
Three to five-month-old dogs are sent to the centre for training with their handlers, with whom they spend the rest of their working lives (8-10 years). (HT File)

How are super sniffers trained

Three to five-month-old dogs are sent to the centre for training with their handlers, with whom they spend the rest of their working lives (8-10 years). They have to train hard to earn a spot in the K9 squad and train for around 12 hours a day, starting at 5 am and continuing till 5.30 pm.

They stick to strict schedule and syllabus. The training starts with a three-month basic obedience course. It is followed by 6-12 months of advanced training as per the canines’ course – tracing explosives, narcotics, wildlife protection or tracking criminals.

Wildlife sniffer dogs are trained to detect tiger skin, ivory, sandalwood, and antelope horns, among other commonly poached items.

NTCD head and second-in-command (veterinary) Vinay Shankar Tyagi says, “The WWF has provided us 11 such articles, whose scents are introduced to the K9s.”

He adds that the centre has asked the WWF to provide more poached items so that the dogs could learn to trace them.

Asked about the dogs’ success rate, Tyagi says, “They are accurate 99.99% of the times. Despite smugglers’ efforts to mask scents, sniffer dogs can easily sift through smells and detect specific articles such as tiger skin. “Sniffer dogs never fail. Only our training can fail them. Thus, we handle the samples carefully so that their scent is not diluted or muddled, and replace them every two years.”

Sniffers’ diverse portfolio

The Bhanu campus has been training dogs since 1995, though NTCD was only started in 2005. “So far, 2,432 dogs, 2,509 handlers and 1,256 assistant dog handlers have been trained here,” says Duhan.

The dogs trained at the centre serve with the ITBP, National Security Guard, Special Protection Group, state police forces of Odisha, Andaman and Nicobar, Kolkata, Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan, among others.

Tyagi says, “At present, 74 dog units are undergoing training for tracing explosives, narcotics, wildlife protection, tracking criminals and poachers and for rescue operations at Bhanu.”

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