To save elephants, Mali employs Dutch dogs

BAMAKO (Reuters) - In an effort to save one of Africa's last desert elephant herds, Mali has employed Mitch, Bobby and Amy - Dutch spaniels with a nose for sniffing out illegal ivory.

The chocolate-colored spaniels are the newest members of an anti-poaching brigade set up to dismantle ivory trafficking networks that have devastated elephant herds in Mali, General Birama Sissoko, an advisor to the environment ministry, told Reuters.

Poaching has been rampant since Tuareg rebels and Islamists took over the north of the country in 2012. French forces pushed them back a year later, but lawlessness still reigns and ivory smuggling has flourished. Trade in elephant tusks funds militants, the United Nations says.

18 PHOTOS
Dogs help in the effort to stop poaching
See Gallery
Dogs help in the effort to stop poaching
'Mitch' (FRONT) a one year old Cocker Spaniel, gets a health check by a veterinarian in Nijmegen on June 20, 2017. Mitch is the first ivory dog trained in the Netherlands and is set to hunt for ivory poachers in the west African country of Mali. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Piroschka van de Wouw / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/AFP/Getty Images)
'Mitch', a one year old Cocker Spaniel, poses after a health check by a veterinarian in Nijmegen on June 20, 2017. Mitch is the first ivory dog trained in the Netherlands and is set to hunt for ivory poachers in the west African country of Mali. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Piroschka van de Wouw / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/AFP/Getty Images)
A special unit of wildlife rangers demonstrate an anti-poaching exercise ahead of the Giants Club Summit of African leaders and others on tackling poaching of elephants and rhinos, Ol Pejeta conservancy near the town of Nanyuki, Laikipia County, Kenya, April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
KEMPIANA, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 02: Prince Harry meets 'killer', a specialist anti-poaching dog as he visits Southern African Wildlife College, a flagship centre close to Kruger National Park, during an official visit to Africa on December 2, 2015 in Kempiana, South Africa. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
KEMPIANA, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 02: Prince Harry meets with specialist anti-poaching dogs as he visits Southern African Wildlife College, a flagship centre close to Kruger National Park, during an official visit to Africa on December 2, 2015 in Kempiana, South Africa. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
PHALABORWA, SOUTH AFRICA SEPTEMBER 29(SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Shaya, a three-legged sniffer dog at the Balule Nature Reserve on September 29, 2015 in Phalaborwa, South Africa. Shaya is also an anti-poaching dog and Craig Spencers long-term friend. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PHALABORWA, SOUTH AFRICA SEPTEMBER 29(SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Shaya, a three-legged sniffer dog at the Balule Nature Reserve on September 29, 2015 in Phalaborwa, South Africa. Shaya is also an anti-poaching dog and Craig Spencers long-term friend. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Instructors simulate on November 26, 2014 the arrest of rhinoceros poachers with trainee dogs, pretending to chase a poacher in the water, at the Paramount Group Anti-Poaching training and K9 (canine) academy in Magaliesberg. One of the largest of its kind in Africa, the academy addresses the ever-increasing need for training of Conservation Officers in anti poaching activities, wildlife contraband detection, specialist canine solutions and Ranger canine handler training - all of which have proven success rates in combatting and apprehending poachers and their activities. The center has been established to provide comprehensive training solutions to assist in curbing the current surge in rhinoceros and elephant poaching. These solutions include specialized anti-poaching reaction unit training, training of handlers and detection dogs at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers, and training special operation dogs for rapid deployment teams, among others. AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHALABORWA, SOUTH AFRICA SEPTEMBER 29(SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Shaya, a three-legged sniffer dog plays with Craig Spencer at the Balule Nature Reserve on September 29, 2015 in Phalaborwa, South Africa. Shaya is also an anti-poaching dog and Craig Spencers long-term friend. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Former special forces Marius and his antipoaching dog Venom get ready to jump out from a moving helicopter on November 26, 2014 as they simulate the arrest of rhinoceros poachers with trainee dogs, pretending to chase a poacher in the water, at the Paramount Group Anti-Poaching training and K9 (canine) academy in Magaliesberg. One of the largest of its kind in Africa, the academy addresses the ever-increasing need for training of Conservation Officers in anti poaching activities, wildlife contraband detection, specialist canine solutions and Ranger canine handler training - all of which have proven success rates in combatting and apprehending poachers and their activities. The center has been established to provide comprehensive training solutions to assist in curbing the current surge in rhinoceros and elephant poaching. These solutions include specialized anti-poaching reaction unit training, training of handlers and detection dogs at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers, and training special operation dogs for rapid deployment teams, among others. AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
PILANESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 22: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Russel the Belgian Shepherd guards a rhino and her calf walk in the Pilanesberg nature reserve on July 22, 2012 in the North West Province, South Africa. Russel is one of the dogs who graduated from Mechem after nine months of training as part of a rhino conservation programme. They will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers. (Photo by Liza van Devente/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PILANESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 22: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Russel the Belgian Shepherd and his handler walk in the Pilanesberg nature reserve on July 22, 2012 in the North West Province, South Africa. Russel is one of the dogs who graduated from Mechem after nine months of training as part of a rhino conservation programme. He will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers in the reserve. (Photo by Liza van Devente/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PILANESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 22: Russel the Belgian Shepherd and his handler walk in the Pilanesberg nature reserve on July 22, 2012 in the North West Province, South Africa. Russel is one of the dogs who graduated from Mechem after nine months of training as part of a rhino conservation programme. He will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers in the reserve. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Liza van Deventer)
PILANESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 22: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Russel the Belgian Shepherd walk looks on in the Pilanesberg nature reserve on July 22, 2012 in the North West Province, South Africa. Russel is one of the dogs who graduated from Mechem after nine months of training as part of a rhino conservation programme. He will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers in the reserve. (Photo by Liza van Devente/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11: A trained dog attacks a trainer at the Mechem facility in Centurion, on July 11, 2012 near Pretoria, South Africa. Three dogs graduated from Mechem as part of a rhino conservation programme. They will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers. (Photo by Gallo Images/ The Times/Daniel Born/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11: Wessel and Karla van Wyk meet dog Toby during a demonstration at the Mechem facility in Centurion, on July 11, 2012 near Pretoria, South Africa. Three dogs graduated from Mechem as part of a rhino conservation programme. They will be used to track and apprehend rhino poachers. (Photo by Gallo Images/ The Times/Daniel Born/Getty Images)
SKUKUZA, SOUTH AFRICA MARCH 18(SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Robert Bryden with his dog, Kara during an anti-poaching demonstration on March 18, 2015 at the Kruger National Park in Skukuza, South Africa. Since the deployment of the army on the park in 2011, there have been less poachers entering from the eastern border of the park which lies closest to Mozambique. (Photo by Herman Verwey/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Only about 300 elephants are left in Mali. About 167 have been slaughtered since fighting broke out in 2012 and a system of local self-policing fell apart, the environment minister said earlier this year.

"There is a stock of ivory that circulates. If we can get hold of the ivory, we can work backwards until we get hold of the poachers," Sissoko told Reuters.

The anti-poaching team will take the dogs on searches when they get intelligence about traffickers' hideouts, and they should be able to help police make arrests, said Susan Canney, director of the Mali Elephant Project, which partnered with the U.S.-based Chengeta Wildlife organization to obtain the dogs.

No poaching has been detected since the unit was founded in February, but that could be because poachers are simply laying low for now, said Canney.

"This should be game-changing," Canney said. "Poachers and traffickers are still there. This could catch them red-handed."

Mali's elephants roam the northern Gourma region, where Islamist and separatist groups still frequently stage attacks.

Elephant tusks from Mali are thought to be sold on the black market for up to $5,000, Canney said.

(Additional reporting by Nellie Peyton in Dakar; writing by Edward McAllister)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.