SKUKUZA – The use of off-leash counter-poaching dogs has increased successes, but also requires better security for the dogs.
“This is why SA Hunters decided to provide support for immediate security upgrades for these valuable, hard-working dogs,” said SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association’s (SA Hunters) manager for conservation, Lizanne Nel.
“This support aligns itself with one of the latest initiatives of SA Hunters and its 79 branches focused at eradicating wildlife crime. Other initiatives include funding for the Rhodis project developing the rhino horn DNA profile database as part of a strategy to combat rhino poaching, anti-poaching strategy and operations for conservation areas, sweeping areas for snares, whistle-blowing and raising awareness.”
The first of 20 new counter-poaching dogs arrived in the country from Texas, US in July this year. Destined for the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), these specially trained, free-running, pack dogs have joined the highly motivated K9 Unit handlers and are being deployed in counter-poaching operations in the Greater Kruger area.
According to college CEO Theresa Sowry, early successes with free-running pack dogs fitted with GPS collars proved to be effective.
“These dogs are also trained in apprehension work and have already helped stop poachers in their tracks while waiting for the helicopters and law enforcement teams to arrive at the scene to make arrests,” she said.
With these successes comes the need for increased security. On hearing about this, Edenvale branch of SA Hunters decided to donate towards the much-needed security lighting at the K9 unit as part of their conservation initiatives.
Pack dogs that run off leash are relatively new to the scene and can track at high speeds over even the most difficult terrain.
They can cover 30 kilometres in two hours and their top speed, measured regularly over short distances, is around 40 kilometres per hour. Using aerial support to follow the dogs allows the rangers to save valuable time in the field.
The new dogs are a cross between black, tan and redbone breeds. They have been bred for nearly a century in the USA to track humans for law enforcement purposes.
“These dogs will track and then use whatever force is necessary to hold the suspects once they’ve caught up to them. If the suspect fights, the dogs will too. But if the person stops fighting, the dogs will become passive,” said Joe Braman, who has played an instrumental role in training the dogs in Texas and getting them to the college.
The establishment of the SAWC K9 Training Unit was a necessary link in the anti-poaching tool kit. The college now uses a four-tiered approach to anti-poaching training and implementation, said Sowry.
“We need to have well-trained and equipped rangers, aerial surveillance to plot and monitor rhino movements and, during an operation to support the dogs and rangers on the ground and suppress poachers so they do not break cover, a K9 capability which is primarily as a result of dogs being able to track at speeds much faster than people, and in terrain where the best human trackers would lose spoor, and community involvement and support.”