Lumi and Cooper Just Say No to Poaching
By Josh Weiss-Roessler
Chances are you’re familiar with drug-sniffing dogs. And you’ve probably heard how dogs can use their incredible sense of smell to uncover bombs. But you probably haven’t heard of Gabon’s dynamic duo: Lumi and Cooper.
Since 2012, this odd couple (Lumi is a yellow cocker spaniel; Cooper is a small Labrador with a red coat) has been helping the Gabonese National Park Agency to stem something that has become a serious problem in the country: poaching.
Why is poaching so big in the country? Because the Gabonese natural wilderness (a rainforest covers three-fourths of the nation) is rich in things that poachers want, including shark fin, leopard skin, primate meat, products of the iboga tree and — of course — ivory.
How bad is it? Poachers have murdered over 11,000 elephants there since 2004, and officials liken it to the illegal drug trade in America.
Dogs Make Humans’ Job Easier
Before Lumi and Cooper brought their noses to the defense of Gabon’s wildlife, human park officials had their work cut out for them. If they searched for contraband that might be in one of hundreds of shipping containers, they needed to go through the painstaking process of opening up each and every one. The time and resources required were enormous, and often park officials just couldn’t do it.
But with their two super-sniffers, anti-poaching teams can let the dogs point them where they need to go. Already, Lumi and Cooper have uncovered things like bushmeat, dried shark fin, and worked ivory, and their team’s increasing number of discoveries has had an unintended effect — they’re motivating the rest of the human pack! The other teams that don’t have canine members yet have worked harder so they don’t fall too far behind.
All in all, the experiment with Lumi and Cooper has worked out so well that officials are hoping to have sixteen anti-poaching dogs working within the next decade.
How the Dogs Do It
The simple answer? They follow their noses, of course!
Lumi and Cooper went through eight weeks of intense training with WagtailUK to learn how to sniff out the specific things that would be required of them when working to curb Gabon’s poaching problem — and that was after they were chosen from over 350 other dogs!
How was the dynamic duo picked? Trainer Louise Wilson says that they were looking for a number of things:
- Dogs with a lot of energy
- A great tolerance for heat
- No aggression
- Comfortable working with people
Most of that makes immediate sense based on the job description and locale, though you might be forgiven for wondering if high-energy dogs seem like the best fit. After all, the last thing handlers need is a whirling dervish of a dog that yanks them around and barks his or her head off.
In this case, though, all that energy was valuable because the trainer was able to channel it into an extreme focus that allows the dogs to do their job for hours on end in the hopes that they will be rewarded with the thing they most desire.
And what’s that? Their tennis ball. When Lumi and Cooper do uncover poached goods, the tennis ball is their way of knowing that they did a good job, and the two of them are utterly obsessed with it.
It just goes to show you that dogs everywhere are the same, regardless of whether they’re the family pet or the reason someone is going to jail for slaughtering other animals — in order to keep them happy and healthy, they need balance, and that means providing exercise, discipline, and affection.