Elephants, rhino and giraffes are part of Africa’s wonderful wildlife mix; amazing and irreplaceable animals that help sustain tourism, provided they are looked after and poachers are kept at bay. A radical new technological breakthrough is helping.

Elephants and rhino are poached for their tusks and horns, which are then smuggled out hidden in large shipping containers.

A brilliant new technique, now threatening the ivory poachers’ trade, lets dogs sniff out ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products hidden in containers, using a tiny sample of air.

The BBC reports that the method is being trialled at Mombasa – the port in Kenya said to be Africa’s most active hub for ivory trafficking.

The new Remote Air Sampling for Canine Olfaction (RASCO), a spinoff of a technique used for airline cargo security, sucks air out of targeted shipping containers and passes it through filters. The dogs do the rest, immediately detecting any illegal wildlife product – speeding up the detection process tremendously.

According to one report, more than 18 tonnes of ivory was seized at Mombasa port between 2009 and 2014.

To produce that much ivory, the report says more than 2400 elephants may have died – and that’s only the ivory that Customs found.

Giraffes in the wild in Africa

Conservationist Drew McVey told the BBC: “This technique [RASCO] could be a game-changer, reducing the number of endangered animal parts finding their way into overseas markets like south-east Asia.”

MEANWHILE, conservationists are focusing increasingly on giraffes. Africa’s giraffe population is said to be down by 40% since 1990 – meaning there are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa.

A report by the US Humane Society, released last week, found that nearly 40,000 giraffe parts had been imported to the US over the past decade, the equivalent, they estimate, of nearly 4000 individual giraffes.

Products range from pillows to Bible covers, and when researchers interviewed the sellers they found that many admitted to having bought the products from trophy hunters.

In March, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed giraffes on the list of vulnerable species, one level below endangered. The Humane Society is campaigning to have giraffes listed as an endangered species.

Written by Peter Needham