Conservationists and park rangers have found a way of challenging rhino poachers at their own game - with the help of well-trained sniffer dogs.
Sniffing their Way to Success
Conservationists and park rangers have found a way of challenging rhino poachers at their own game - with the help of well-trained sniffer dogs. The rangers have been trained as dog handlers, and after the dogs have completed an intensive training programme, they are handed over to their rangers who they assist in patrolling different areas of the Kruger National Park.
The dogs were trained to track human scent, to sniff out rhino horn and ammunition and to protect their rangers. The dogs possess natural instincts that are further enhanced by training. The success of these sniffer dogs occurs at an incredible pace due to their mobility in the difficult terrains in which the rhinos graze.
The first sniffer dog that was introduced to the fight against rhino poachers proved to be beneficial in the monitoring of suspicious activity in the Kruger National Park. Since the inclusion of sniffer dogs in 2012, the anti-poaching dog pack has increased to include K9 units in 2014. The canine units have been stationed in five areas in the Kruger National Park, and plans to extend beyond the park have been considered but remain abstract due to the high costs involved in training and looking after the dogs.
Rangers, with the help of their canine partners, have performed daily patrols in the areas where poaching is common. The anti-poaching initiative has successfully arrested 53 suspects between January and June 2014. Isaac Phaahla, spokesman for SANParks said, "The units have made a great difference, the number of successful arrests have largely been due to them". In 2013, a total amount of 133 arrests were made for rhino-poaching related crimes.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) first used a sniffer dog to assist in its anti-rhino poaching campaign in 2012. Rico the Wildlife Sniffer Dog is being trained to detect wildlife products. The training was funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust. Rico was deployed as part of a partnership between the EWT and the African Consultants for Transport Security (ACTS), a cargo screening company that uses sniffer dogs to detect explosives in cargo.
Rico, a two year old Belgian Malinois, arrived in South Africa from Germany on Tuesday the 6th of March 2012. He took up duty as a Wildlife Sniffer Dog at O.R. Tambo International Airport's cargo and baggage sections. The canine is physically ideally suited for the task as he has a high work drive, immense confidence and intense focus, coupled with an extraordinary sense of smell.
The dog forms part of the EWT's strategy to quell the rampant rhino poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
"Rico will be housed and cared for by ACTS at their canine facility in Kempton Park, with generous sponsorship for the animal also coming from BIDVest and the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Fund. Once he has acclimatised to his new environment Rico is to be introduced to his future handler," said Kirsty Brebner of the EWT. "While he already understands the principles of searching for and detecting scents he will now be imprinted on the specific scents - particularly rhino horn, ivory and abalone - that he needs to detect before being put to work. As he matures, new scents of other threatened species affected by illegal trade and smuggling will be added to his olfactory repertoire."
The EWT then facilitated the deployment of a further five dogs at various high risk border points of entry and exit during 2012. This contributed to increasing the detection rate of wildlife contraband in transit and therefore, the risk associated with wildlife crime and rhino poaching specifically.
With increased detection comes improved arrest and prosecution rates and hopefully, a reduction in poaching through deterring individuals involved in organised crime.
Endangered Wildlife Trust