Remember when you were in school and you first heard about the blue-footed booby, passenger pigeons, or Carolina parakeets? All beautiful birds that are now extinct.

Remember when you were in school and you first heard about the blue-footed booby, passenger pigeons, or Carolina parakeets? All beautiful birds that are now extinct. It was said that Carolina parakeets that lived right here in the Midwest, were so plentiful they clouded the sky when their flock flew over.

Having a parakeet as a child, I have often dreamed of seeing a Carolina parakeet. What colors did it have, how big was it, what did it really look like?

What would happen if the rhinoceros and elephants that we all know became extinct within our lifetime? How do we explain to our children and grandchildren what they looked like? How do we explain how we let them become extinct without doing anything about it?

According to Michael Graham Richard of Science, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service is doing something about it. They have now graduated four "wildlife detector dogs" to identify elephant tusks and rhino horns. Their names are Viper, Butter, Lancer, and Locket, and although their names may sound sweet and docile, they are anything but. These dogs have tough duty sniffing out poachers who are trying to smuggle in ivory through U.S. ports, airports, even UPS, and FedEx.
"The recent rapid growth in the global trade in protected wildlife is pushing some species perilously close to extinction. Elephant and rhino populations in particular are declining at alarming rates," said Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Ed Grace. "The battle to stop wildlife smuggling is one we simply cannot afford to lose, and using dogs and their phenomenal sense of smell to catch smugglers will give us a real leg up in this effort."

Rhinos are leaving this planet at alarming rates and are probably the number one poached animal on earth. According to en.avaaz.org, there are 20,000 white rhinos, 4,880 black rhinos, 2,913 Greater one-horned rhinos, 200 Sumatran rhinos, and 50 javan rhinos left. Worst of all over 100 rhinoceros were killed in South Africa in less than two months last fall.

According to the BBC, Science & Nature, there are about 25,600 Asian elephants left in the wild and less than 1,500 Pygmy elephants left in Borneo, a country known for its formerly large elephant population. There may be around 500,000 African elephants left, but their number is drastically being reduced by loss of habitat and poaching. When is it going to stop?

You may be asking, how are four dogs going to make a difference. Simply said, they are not, but these dogs are a pilot program.
And, if they turn out to be effective, more wildlife detector dogs will be on their way to sniffing out poached ivory and leading authorities to the poachers.

Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.