Benny, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, searches through cargo for items hidden by state Department of Fish and Wildlife Detective Lauren Wendt. Washington’s first wildlife-detection dog, Benny is certified in detecting elephant ivory, bear gallbladder, shark fin, firearms, and spent casings. Photo: Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times

By Sarah Wu
22 June 2018

(The Seattle Times) – With his paws perched against towering stacks of furniture, Benny forced his snout between two Saudi Arabian sofas and found a piece of elephant ivory that his handler had hidden as part of a drill.

Smugglers trafficking in elephant ivory — one of the most common illegal animal products shipped to or through Washington — are no match for Benny, the state’s first wildlife detection dog. The sleek Labrador retriever’s strong sense of smell helps wildlife and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize some of the illegally-trafficked animal products that pass through the state’s ports of entry.

The cargo in the warehouse along the Duwamish Waterway has not yet officially entered the United States.  It’s stored here until it can be inspected for potential consumer safety threats, intellectual property concerns and wildlife-trafficking violations, according to Customs spokesman Jason Givens.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Detective Lauren Wendt, Benny’s handler, said a wildlife detection dog makes inspections significantly more efficient — and more fun.

“He’s a bright spot in my days,” she said.

Benny is certified in detecting elephant ivory, bear gallbladder, shark fin, firearms and spent casings, and will soon be certified to detect rhino horn. Wendt said pangolin — the most trafficked mammal in the world — may be the next addition to Benny’s resume.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational organized crime in the world, and the U.S. is a prominent consumer in the black market of wildlife trade, according to the Department of State.

As a major port state, Washington annually sees approximately 5,000 wildlife shipments, both legal and illegal, according to John Goldman, who supervises U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors in the Pacific Northwest.

Goldman said he has seen a surge in illegally trafficked animal products used in “higher-quality” traditional Asian medicine, including protected species of sea horses, pangolin scales, bear gallbladders and pills and plasters made with leopard.

This rising demand is outgrowing Goldman’s five-person team.

“A growing affluence in Seattle, Vancouver, Canada and Portland has created a demand for wildlife products traded on a scale that our staff is challenged with,” Goldman said. [more]

Meet Benny the dog, Washington’s newest weapon in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking

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