Dog smug­gling

Popular Science - - CONTENTS - JEN­NIFER DAY,

Each year, poach­ers traf­fic thou­sands of tons of il­le­gal wildlife prod­ucts through the world’s big­gest ports. De­tec­tor dogs like the ones I work with are among the most ef­fec­tive means of find­ing that con­tra­band. Trained ca­nines can sniff out mi­nus­cule amounts of ivory, rhino horn, tiger bone, and other il­le­gal prod­ucts with greater than 90 per­cent ac­cu­racy.

But these amaz­ing ca­nine work­ers will push them­selves too hard if you let them. In search­ing cargo con­tain­ers, trained an­i­mals can encounter toxic sub­stances, dan­ger­ous ma­chin­ery, and ex­treme heat. Some have even died on the job.

There is a way to make things safer (and more ef­fi­cient): draw­ing air from ship­ping con­tain­ers, run­ning it through scent-trap­ping fil­ters, and then giv­ing that odor to snif­fer dogs n a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. That way, cus­toms of­fi­cials can search in­side a con­tainer with­out any­one ac­tu­ally open­ing it up. South African mine-clear­ing com­pany Mechem orig­i­nally de­vel­oped such de­vices in the 1990s in or­der to de­tect bombs, but small gov­ern­men­tal wildlife de­part­ments can’t af­ford them. So my uni­ver­sity’s Cen­ter for Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to make our own ver­sion from ba­sic ma­te­ri­als.

For the past year, we have been per­fect­ing a 15-pound Ghost­buster-style back­pack. In­side, a lithium bat­tery pow­ers a leaf blower with an en­gine we re­versed so it sucks in air. That blast trav­els through a hose to a re­mov­able can­is­ter—it at­taches with be­spoke 3D-printed com­po­nents—that con­tains the cot­ton scent-col­lec­tion pad. I spear­headed the de­sign, and I re­mem­ber go­ing to the hard­ware store while very, very preg­nant to look at leaf blow­ers and vac­u­ums, putting my hands on them, and brain­storm­ing.

Soon, we’ll start con­duct­ing small-scale tri­als, test­ing dogs with sam­ples of shark fins. Once we de­ter­mine how much odor they need to make a de­tec­tion, we’ll train them on other ma­te­ri­als. This has the po­ten­tial to re­ally rev­o­lu­tion­ize the way cus­toms de­tects con­tra­band.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.