Thanks to Delaware Online for this article.
Dogs hone skills to catch poachers
Wildlife officers, canine partners train at camp in Maryland
By REBEKAH ALLEN, The News Journal
RISING SUN, Md. — In the middle of a remote campsite, Warden stopped and began scratching at the ground where an ammunition magazine was hidden by officers under a pile of dried grass.
In another minute he found a shotgun shell.
And in another, he found a holster.
“When he starts to scratch to indicate he’s found something, we throw a ball at him,” said Cpl. Casey Zolper, a Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife enforcement agent. “Everything is a big game to him.”
Like other black Labrador retrievers, Warden’s favorite game is fetch. But he plays for a different reason.
Warden and Zolper were practicing article detection — a training exercise designed to help in the enforcement of regulations against poaching. Warden and dogs that work with environmental police units in Maryland and Pennsylvania are spending five days at the Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Horseshoe in northern Cecil County to hone skills used in investigating hunting violations.
“We actually have quite a good bit of poaching throughout the whole state,” Zolper said.
Delaware agents arrested 26 people in 2006 for “poaching-related activities,” Chief James Graybeal said. Most arrests are made in the winter before deer season begins.
“Road hunters,” or people who use their vehicle lights to blind the deer and then shoot them from a vehicle, are becoming a common problem in the region, Zolper said. Hunters involved in these violations risk losing their vehicles to seizure.
The agents use the dogs to crack hunting violations in three ways: article detection, wildlife detection and tracking.
The dogs, which can detect deer, turkey, doves, ducks and geese, are trained to find dead animals in the field. Officers can then determine whether they were hunted illegally.
Wednesday, Warden, along with Blu and Bear from Maryland, and Sarge and Onyx from Pennsylvania, spent hours locating staged firearm parts in an open field. The retrievers were trained to sniff out a human scent on the articles. Zolper said sometimes when poachers are caught in the act they throw their gun magazine or ammunition to deny involvement, but the dogs can recover the evidence.
“We could have had eight people surveying the same area and never find anything,” said Maryland Natural Resources Officer Kurt Dieterle. “The dog can find it in five minutes. It’s a time saver.”
The day’s training ended as the dogs followed a track laid for them by officers earlier in the morning. The exercise helps the dogs learn to locate bodies or follow suspects running from the police.
Warden, who was certified for his work a year ago, has helped find numerous poachers and once located evidence related to a homicide, Zolper said.