Demonstrating the efficacy of sniffer dogs in poison and carcass detection

On March 20th 2023, a delegation of three police representatives from Serbia – Aida Gogalić from the Environmental Crime Unit and coordinator Tamara Jevtović and veterinary Branislav Vilimonović from the Police Training Center for Dog Handlers and Police Dogs– travelled to Hungary for a two-day training program in improving wildlife crime detection through the use of sniffer dog units. The program was organized by WWF Adria-Serbia with the support of MME Birdlife Hungary and the Police Education and Training Center in Dunakeszi.

“We believe developing institutional knowledge and capacity building is crucial for improving wildlife crime detection and prosecution. It was great to see a lot of goodwill, a real desire to learn and dedication to fighting wildlife crime. We’re hopeful this is just the first of many training opportunities and exchanges WWF will be able to facilitate and welcome the enthusiasm we’ve observed among law enforcement representatives,“ said Iva Svilar from WWF Adria.

While police dogs have been in use for a while in Serbia, the Environmental Crime Unit has only been established last year. This trip enabled an exchange of knowledge and ideas, and opened discussions about the possibility of introducing a poison and carcass detection dog unit in Serbia. Additionally, it demonstrated a successful model of cooperation between government institutions and the NGO sector – Birdlife Hungary has been working closely with the Hungarian police and implementing the practice of using sniffer dogs since 2013, within the PannonEagle Life project.

In Hungary, during the 2000s, pesticide poisoning became the most important threat to raptors, especially to the globally threatened Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca). In September 2013, the first poison and carcass detection dog (PCDD) unit was formed with a specifically trained detection dog and handler. Two more dogs were subsequently trained and joined the unit in 2017 and 2020.

Detecting illegal poisoning cases is challenging and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted due to a lack of clear, conclusive evidence. Sniffer dogs, due to their sophisticated sense of smell, and greater ability to cover difficult terrains and larger areas quickly, find 80% of the poison baits, compared to their human counterparts.

“The training we attended was very interesting because it actually shows the symbiosis of a person and a dog, doing something in the field for the greater good of both people and animals. The Police Dog Training Centre in Serbia always strives for innovation in the training and use of police dogs. Poison detection is one such innovation and the dog unit in Hungary is a great example of good practice for any country in the world,” says Tamara Jevtović, coordinator at the Police Training Center for Dog Handlers and Police Dogs in Serbia.

In addition to the sniffer dogs demonstration, the group visited a local Eagle Centre where they could see some of the birds that were saved and recovering from poisoning or other human-inflicted injuries and hear more about the importance of rehabilitation centres like this in conservation work and education.