MOMBASA, Kenya Every day, 96 elephants are gunned down in Africa. Every 11 hours, a rhino is slaughtered. And every few years, Kenya loses a wildlife park ranger at the hands of a poacher.
Encounters between the poachers and the rangers almost always turn fatal on one side, said Paul Mbugua, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, which has lost 13 rangers to poachers in the last three years four this year alone. Its like fighting a guerrilla war.
As a resurgence of illicit ivory and rhino-horn trafficking leaves a trail of blood across Africa, this East African nation is borrowing a page from Americas war on drugs. Sniffer dogs, normally used to ferret out cocaine shipments, are being put to work in Kenya to track down hidden tusks and horns passing through Kenyas seaport and airports.
They are very good, said Cpl. David Sang, head of the Kenya Wildlife Services K-9 unit based in Mombasa, a leading transit route for smugglers. A dogs sense of smell is very high.
Indeed, even ivory, referred to as white gold in China, carries its own scent. So do rhino horns, which sell for close to $30,000 a pound as much as $390,000 for the horns of a single white rhino on the black market, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
The dogs have become a key tool in Kenya where rangers are being outgunned and outwitted by ruthless, well-armed and well-financed poachers trying to meet the growing demand for ivory and rhino horns in Asia.
But the unprecedented demand is presenting an economic and security challenge for Kenya, which attracts about $1 billion a year in wildlife tourism revenue.
The assault on wildlife comes as Kenya faces a new threat as evidenced in the recent terrorist attack at an upscale Nairobi mall.
Weeks before the September attack, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a White House conference on combating illegal wildlife trafficking, warned that Asian criminal interests and those of terrorists groups, like the Somali militant al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the mall attack, had begun to coincide.
U.S. intelligence, Clinton said, revealed terrorists groups are exploiting some of the same porous borders and global criminal networks that carry arms, drugs and victims of human trafficking, creating ungoverned space.
As Kenya launched a national awareness campaign to save its elephants, Clinton and daughter Chelsea also unveiled their own campaign. The $80-million, three-year initiative in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society is focused on curbing demand for illegal ivory.
The Clintons commitment comes as the Obama administration moves to add the southern white rhino the last rhino not protected to the U.S. endangered species list. The administration also has committed to intensify training of African game officers and promote an anti-poaching campaign in the United States.
A plan earlier this month to destroy nearly six tons of warehoused ivory the U.S. has been collecting for more than 25 years, had to be postponed to Nov. 14. It was a casualty of the U.S. government shutdown.
By crushing the ivory, U.S. authorities hope to send a strong message to traffickers that ivory has no value other than on an elephants tusks.