Meet Labradors Bess and Buster, trained by police in the UK for detection work in the fight against illegal wildlife trade in Thailand.

Sniffer dogs Bess and Buster wearing green working vests at London Zoo with a plushie pangolin
Buster and Bess will continue their detection training in Thailand from May 2023

Bess and Buster will be combating the trafficking of the critically endangered pangolin, the world’s only scaly mammal. Thailand is a key trafficking route for both alive and dead pangolins to China and Vietnam, where there is a ready market for their scales and meat. 

Grant Miller of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the conservation charity, describes to Dogs with Jobs presenter Kate Fairweather what working life will look like for Buster and Bess, who will join the conservation charity’s team of experts in Thailand and work alongside conservationists, border force operatives and Thailand’s own police and law enforcement. He also explains the wider conservation context and why pangolins matter. 

International collaboration

The pair are just one element of a multi-prong approach orchestrated by ZSL. It is an excitingly collaborative effort, involving the dog training instruction team at the UK’s Metropolitan Police, ZSL and Thailand’s own law enforcement service, which has its own expertise in working dogs. Grant explains the knowledge transfer going on, with modern dog training best practices being shared with local conservation workers. 

The dogs’ initial training in the UK – which both passed with flying colours – will be completed in Thailand, where the scents they’ve been training with will be mixed with pangolin scales and eventually be withdrawn. At this stage, Bess and Buster will work with expert local handlers to detect the scent of pangolins being smuggled at airports, ports and roads, so the pangolins can be rescued and released back into the wild.  

Why Pangolins? 

ZSL explains that all eight species of pangolin are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and considered threatened with extinction. Although a total ban on commercial trade in pangolins was introduced in 2017, the world’s only scaly mammal is victim to highly unsustainable levels of poaching and illegal trade for their meat, scales and other body parts – with 200,000 pangolins believed to be trafficked every year. 

Find out more about ZSL’s conservation work

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