Welsh Mountain Zoo

Zoo training helps sniff out illegal wildlife smuggling

Posted: 7th September, 2021

Animal keepers at the Welsh Mountain Zoo have partnered with Wagtail UK Ltd, to support the training of Wildlife Detection Dogs.


A subsidiary of Wagtail UK, ‘Conservation Dogs’ specialises in this type of training and has been taking dogs to the Zoo to help them learn to detect specific odours of rare and threatened species, ahead of their deployment to a travel hub in Southeast Asia.


Zoo residents including leopard geckos, a royal python, Hermann’s tortoise and a lesser Madagascan hedgehog tenrec have been used in training sessions - their care and welfare remaining an over-arching priority, with trained keepers always present. Used bedding materials from some other species was supplied, along with ‘artefacts’ such as freshly shed snake skin. 


Kim Wood of the Welsh Mountain Zoo explained: “The MD of Wagtail UK Ltd contacted the Zoo, to see if we would be able to help provide an environment in which they could work to advance the dogs training. We were pleased to be able to help them in a unified aim of supporting wildlife conservation.


“The training sessions for the dogs were short, with the introduction of new target odours provided for the dogs, which had already been trained to an advanced stage prior to visiting the Zoo. The training teaches the dog to indicate on the target odour without making any contact with the source – this means that when the dog has found the necessary odour, it will stand still as a means of indicating to their handler that they have found the source.


“The Zoo’s animals do not see or encounter the dogs during the sessions, and are handled and placed in carriers by trained staff, in much the same way they would be for veterinary or educational visits.”


Three dogs, aged between one and two trained at the Zoo, including two labradors and a spaniel.  If successful in their deployment, it is hoped more dogs can be trained to join the team in the future.


Kim continued: “The team at the Zoo are absolutely thrilled to be involved with the training of these wildlife detection dogs, which will help tackle wildlife crime, in the form of smuggling artefacts and live wild animals, on the front line. 


“Wildlife trafficking is reported to be the world’s fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting.  East and Southeast Asia is considered to be a major transit centre for the illegal wildlife trade, and so any work that can be undertaken to interrupt this activity will have a significant impact on global progress in this area.  The Zoo is passionate about and committed to contributing to many forms of conservation work, and we are so proud to be able to help with the training of these dogs for this valuable role.”


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