This is Asja, a very social springer spaniel from Hungary. Will Powell, the director of AWF's Conservation Canine Program, describes her as having an explosive energy. Powell says the AWF chooses breeds that have incredible drive and powers of concentration, and an ability to keep working under a variety of conditions.
Kenya Wildlife Service ranger Erica Cheruiyot enjoys a playful moment with Asja. Erica and Asja will both be deployed to Mombasa, Kenya, where they will work both the seaport and airport.
The dogs are taught to search cars, trucks, luggage and buildings. Whenever they detect ivory, they are trained to sit or lay down, which indicates to their handler that ivory has been found.
The AWF launched the canine program last year following a pilot project with Kenya Wildlife Service's Canine Detection Unit.
Kenya Wildlife Service ranger-handler William Mariga takes a break with Diva, a female Malinois from Holland. Despite her name, Diva is the most obedient of all the recent dog graduates.
The program is as much about creating teaching handlers how to bond with their dogs as it is about training the canines. This is achieved through two months of intensive training.
The detection dogs are sourced from Europe where there is a strong culture of training dogs for police work.
Handlers that demonstrated empathy for animals and a strong commitment to conservation were selected from the ranks of Kenya Wildlife Service and Tanzania's Wildlife Division to undergo training as part of AWF's Conservation Canine Program. Dogs first begin training with a dog toy, called a Kong, which has a neutral odor, before ivory is introduced. They then learn to detect small pieces of ivory, larger elephant tusks and even ivory dust.