The first of the 10 new counter-poaching dogs arrived in South Africa from the USA earlier in July.
They will join a highly motivated K9 Unit at the Southern African Wildlife College on the borders of the Kruger National Park. Once settled and accustomed to their new handlers, these specially trained, free-running pack dogs will be deployed in counter-poaching operations in the Greater Kruger area.
“We are incredibly excited to work with these dogs,” said the college CEO, Theresa Sowry. “Our early successes with freerunning pack dogs have shown us how effective they are in the field. These dogs are also trained in apprehension work, and will actively help rangers stop poachers in their tracks.”
While on-leash trackers are commonly used by counter-poaching teams, pack dogs that run off leash are relatively new to the scene, but already proving their worth. They can track at high speeds over even the most difficult terrain.
Recent exercises have seen them cover 30 kilometres in two hours. Their top speeds, measured regularly over short distances, are around 40 kilometres per hour.
Using aerial support to follow the dogs allows the rangers to save valuable time in the field.
The new additions are a cross between black and tan and Redbone breeds. They have been bred for nearly a century in the USA to track humans for law enforcement purposes.
The college will begin working with these dogs to be able to deploy them to hold poachers at bay while waiting for rangers to arrive.
As the demand for well-trained dogs and handlers grows, there is potential for the college, as a SADC training institute, to play a major role in replicating the K9 unit’s early successes in protected areas throughout Africa.
“When I found out what is really going on in southern Africa – how serious and destructive the poaching crisis is – I thought, if I can do something to help, I’m going to do it,” said Texas houndsman Joe Braman, who has 35 years of experience working with dogs to positively impact wildlife conservation efforts.
Once all the dogs have arrived – a maximum of five can be transported per flight given their size – they will travel to the college’s state-of-the-art K9 Unit established in 2015 with funding from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.
Further assistance, generously provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, helps support the unit’s increasing running costs.
“Adding tracker dogs to the field ranger teams has really changed the game, but as their successes increase, so to do the risks they face. This is why the college needs ongoing support, most immediately for security upgrades for these valuable, hardworking dogs,” said Sowry. “They’re real conservation heroes that complement the work being done by field rangers, through aerial support and within communities, as part of our four-tiered approach to counter poaching.
“We can’t wait to see what these new additions from the USA bring to the team.”