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American trainer brings 4 dogs to detect saiga horns in Kazakhstan

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American trainer brings 4 dogs to detect saiga horns in Kazakhstan

Almaty customs officers have got four new well-trained detection dogs from Europe and America. The joint effort is called to help save the dwindling saiga antelope population in Kazakhstan, Tengrinews reports.

According to Mark Rispoli, General Counsel at California Narcotic and Explosive Canine Association, "this is the first time any place in the world that this program has ever been used to train dogs to detect saiga horn".

Saiga antelope is a critically endangered species. Uncontrolled hunting driven by demand for the horns in Chinese medicine has pushed the saiga inhabiting the Kazakh steppes to the verge of extinction. "15 years ago there were 1.3 million saiga antelopes, and today, their population is a mere 187 thousand," the American SWGDOG executive board member said.   

Kazakhstan seeks to save the endangered species. Hunting saiga antelopes is banned in Kazakhstan. The country reaffirmed the ban in 2010 and extended it until 2021. But Kazakhstan's steppes are vast and its borderlines are long, so preventing slaughtering of these big-nosed animals and trafficking of their body parts to China and elsewhere is extremely difficult. 

Saiga horns are small and easy to hide, so only a very small part of this antelope-annihilating business has been stopped at the customs border. Men are just not right for the job. But dogs can handle it just fine. 

Detector dogs are more commonly used to detect drugs and explosives, but these dogs have been specially trained to detect saiga horn. "Odor that we train the dogs to find really doesn't matter. What matters is that the dog has the characteristics, and the personnallity, and the necessary drive to detect," Mr. Rispoli explained. 

He brought over four dogs to Almaty, Kazakhstan's large southern city that is known to be the hub for saiga horns trafficking to the neighboring China.

The dogs are now trained in the local environment. The Kazakh handlers and their foreign dogs are still experiencing some communication difficulties. But this is a passing problem. Two of the dogs were trained in English, one in Check and one in Dutch, but now the commands in these languages are paid with the commands in Russian, and the dogs will soon figure out what the Russian commands stand for. What matters is that they have already figured out what saiga horns smell like and are very good at detecting them. 

By Tatyana Kuzmina

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