In 2008, Sea Shepherd purchased 6 police dogs in Colombia. These dogs and their guides form the first ever police K-9 dog unit in South America that focuses on the detection of contraband wildlife. These could be live animals, dead animals as well as animal parts. Regardless of their state, they are all taken from their natural habitat in an illegal manner and/or for illegal purposes. The success of this project is very important as other South American countries could learn by example and implement a similar system. This will be elemental in getting a stronger wildlife protection in place in a part of the world that is so rich in biodiversity.
After extensive training on mainland Ecuador, the dogs and their guides were transported to Galapagos at the beginning of 2009. Here they were divided over the 3 main populated islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela) and have been checking all person and cargo movement between, to, and from the islands.
Upon the dogs' arrival to the islands, we had to invest in the construction of dog kennels on 2 of the 3 locations as none of these facilities existed. Sea Shepherd built kennels specifically for the dogs. They are more spacious than existing kennels with the well-being of the dogs in mind. They are also built on police property in order to avoid possible retaliation from potential poachers and smugglers.
It is a common sight at all the airports and in all the harbors in Galapagos to see the guides and dogs go about their business – checking all cargo and luggage. Even though we are mostly interested in the detection of shark fins, the dogs are capable of detecting a wide range of animal smells, making the smuggling of wildlife past these check points very difficult.
The unit is also being used to check more remote locations as well as use the dogs to search properties in which the presence of illegal wildlife is suspected.
The dogs and their guides are in constant and continued need of training in order to maintain their high sensitivity. We have been and will continue to be paying for food and medical care for the dogs as well as training materials and training courses for the guides.
For this project we have signed an institutional agreement of cooperation between Sea Shepherd and the Ecuadorian National Police.
During the past four years, time in which the unit has been active, not only have we seen numerous cases in which wildlife smugglers were apprehended and illegal wildlife was confiscated, the unit also has a preventative function. Nobody in their right mind still tries to smuggle wildlife past the dogs, as detection is a certainty.