A New Canine Unit to Protect the Galapagos from Invasive Species

Training the new canine unit to prevent invasive species in the Galapagos (Photo / WildAid)

(Ecuador / WildAid) - Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. That’s why together with the Galapagos Conservancy, WildAid helped the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG) form a specialized canine unit to protect these unique islands from invasive species

In 2016, we selected and trained two dogs and three handlers, as well as constructed the necessary infrastructure (kennels and offices) for the unit. The canine unit will provide a versatile and low cost method of detecting illegal substances to prevent their entry into the Galapagos archipelago.

The first stage of the training was done in Quito, where the dogs spent three months training in the identification of nine odors selected by the ABG because they are prohibited from entering the Galapagos, but are commonly found on passengers attempting to smuggle them onto the islands, including oranges, dragon fruit, and passion fruit.

The dogs were tested on their success in detection and their adaptability by identifying the odors in different locations. Unfortunately, one of the canines presented some skin sensitivity issues during this phase and had to be returned to the organization Cobra Canina for a replacement. The new canine is expected to arrive in the next few months.

The second phase of the program was done in Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and consisted in the selection and training of canine handlers. A pool of 11 candidates underwent a rigorous selection process, and of those we selected three canine handlers. The process included basic personality tests, psychomotricity tests (the relation between mental and physical processes) and other aptitude tests to select the best candidates.

After their selection, the three candidates were trained in basic care and maintenance of the canines and their kennels, storage of scent samples, canine handling techniques for detection of target scents including general search strategies in large areas, open areas, closed areas, proper walking techniques and reintroduction of scents. 

Over the next few months, we will conduct onsite training at airports and ports for the canine teams and problem correction, as well as conduct initial training for the replacement canine from Cobra Canina for his introduction to the unit. The unit will officially launch in April with three handlers and two canines.

Thanks to the support of IGTOA and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, as well as our partners Galapagos Conservancy and the ABG, this canine unit will act as a strong and unobtrusive tool in the identification of hidden organic products in passenger luggage and cargo upon entry to the archipelago. The prevention of these products, along with our work in biosecurity in the Galapagos, could signify a decrease in the spread of invasive species or diseases that could affect the biodiversity, human health and agricultural development of the Galapagos Islands.