See Spot. See Spot Find Ivory and Mahogany!

Sally Crossthwaite/Flickr
Trained springer spaniels, like this one, have been deployed to sniff out illegally traded wildlife in timber.

Long used for sniffing out bombs and drugs, K9 units are increasingly being put to the test in the global trade of endangered wildlife and timber. This summer, the World Wildlife Fund – Germany (WWF) published Wildlife Detector Dogs: A guideline on the training of dogs to detect wildlife in trade; and the Global Timber Tracking Network released early footage of two springer spaniel pups uncovering banned timber hidden in stacks of commonly (and legally) traded woods.

In the case of wildlife, the world is seeing “an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade,” according to the WWF. Especially prevalent has been the poaching of rhinos, with the trade of their horns increasing by 5,000 percent in South Africa alone between 2007 and 2012. Poaching also threatens the last of the world’s wild tigers. Their population today barely exceeds 3,000.

Similarly concerning figures exist for the illegal timber trade, which is fueled by changing land use, growing global demand for high-end wood, and what are often poorly implemented and weakly enforced trade rules. Forests around the world are being drastically cut back and unsustainably harvested for the collection of select rare tree species.

These trades are estimated to be worth several billions of dollars each year—money often siphoned off of developing economies and deposited instead in the black market. The current extinction rate of plants and animals, driven largely by direct human interference, is nearly 1,000 times the natural rate. “In the interest of future generations,” says WWF in its report, “it is an important challenge to stop the decline of threatened animals and plants species.”

Dogs, it turns out, are one of the tools at our disposal: properly trained, they’re more than ready to bark up the wrong tree.