Updated: Sep 15, 2020
By Danielle Daggett for Aspire Magazine (Blue Leaf Media Ltd) January 2019
Whether it’s rhino horn, elephant tusks or leopard skin, poaching is a horrific reality that’s been plaguing countries across Africa for generations. Poaching and wildlife trafficking are lucrative forms of transnational organised crime, decimating populations of wildlife across Africa.
Today, the rhino is most under threat. Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and increasingly common as a status symbol to display success and wealth. Poaching is now a threat in all rhino range states. As South Africa is home to the majority of rhinos in the world, it’s being heavily targeted. On our honeymoon in South Africa, we spoke to rangers and guides about the devastating impact of poaching. Most private game reserves now dehorn their rhinos to protect them. We were told that, if they chose to dehorn, they must dehorn every rhino there and make it public knowledge. This is because poachers track the rhinos and if they come across one without a horn, they’ll kill it anyway to avoid wasting time tracking it again.
Canine units have proven to be a highly effective tool in supporting anti-poaching efforts, owing to their excellent sense of smell, tracking and attack abilities. Happily, working dogs are not corruptible: if they find an illegal substance, they will indicate so, regardless of who the suspect is.
Inspired by our recent trip and the previous Aspire feature on Ben Rodger’s race for Save The Rhino, I reached out to the charity to find out more about how ‘Dog Squads’ are helping anti-poaching teams fight these crimes.
“While it is difficult to quantify the effectiveness of dog units in anti-poaching efforts, the increase in units shows they have been an extremely helpful tool for ranger teams,” says Emma Pereira of Save The Rhino.
So, what’s the dog’s job?
• Deterrence – The presence of dogs alone can be enough to stop potential poachers from entering a park, as they know they are likely to be caught. Large breeds such as German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are chosen for this. Speed machines, Belgian Malinois can reach speeds of 30mph. Also used as attack dogs, they’re trained to bite and hold poachers, disabling the gun-holding arm.
• Tracking – On average, a dog’s nose is 40x more sensitive than a human’s. Using their remarkable sense of smell, dogs can lead rangers to poachers and enable effective arrests. Born to sniff, with up to 300,000,000 scent receptors, Bloodhounds are most commonly used for these tasks. Tracker dogs can follow a scent from a single footprint for 24-48 hours!
• Detection - Dogs can sniff out different wildlife products, such as rhino horn, elephant ivory, pangolin skin and more. They assist in searches of houses, cars and even villages. This makes searches more efficient and effective, meaning criminals are caught before they have a chance to escape.
Securing a bond, dogs are teamed up with specialist rangers throughout training and work. As with any animal, these dogs are not cheap to keep. They require quality food, healthcare and equipment for training. The amazing work of the dogs and trainers can only continue with the help of donations.
To find out how you can make a difference, please visit: www.savetherhino.org/programmes/anti-poaching-canine-units/
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