This is part two of an ongoing series about wildlife conservation. For part one, click here.
Dogs have been used as trackers for hundreds of years: to hunt, to find missing persons, and to detect illegal contraband and bombs. Now, they are being used to help track down the illegal poachers that threaten African wildlife. The Big Life Foundation has recently launched the Big Life Tracker Dog Unit to fight poaching in East Africa, where elephants are regularly targeted for their tusks.
Big Life Tanzania began using German shepherds as tracker dogs in 2011, but have recently been garnering more attention for their work. They originally had four handlers and two dogs on their team. The two German shepherds and their humans were trained by Canine Specialist Services International.
Different breeds of dogs are also being used in Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to protect mountain gorillas, and in Kruger National Park (South Africa) to protect the world’s largest population of rhinos.
The dogs are able to pick up scents off of animals that have been killed, which allows them to track down the poachers. After killing an animal, the poachers flee and often escape. However, the dogs are able to track their scents for miles, which often leads to an arrest. While the death of wildlife is a major downfall, the arrest of poachers is seen as a success, because it means one less criminal is illegally hunting animals.
“Even if the poachers are not ambushed or stopped before the crime, they will almost definitely be caught with dogs after the crime.”
Other organizations, such as the Kenya Wildlife Service, often request the help of the dog units from Tanzania. Their dogs are extremely successful, and their hard work is utilized in other countries where poachers are a major threat.
Big Life Tanzania was the first organization in the country to use dogs to track poachers. The successes of the canine unit have been shared throughout wildlife conservation organizations, and the general public; people know about them, so their services are in demand. Groups of poachers are also aware that they are potentially being tracked, which helps deter their activity.
Expansion is likely, with more canine units being placed throughout the country so the dogs and their handlers have greater access to the vast areas covered by national parks. The canine units are often asked for help in the areas surrounding Lake Manyara, the Tarangire National Parks, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority. Creating more kennels will allow the dogs to travel to more areas for work, and also allow for the canine units to expand and bring in more dogs.
South Africa also has an extensive program for training and utilizing canine units to hunt down poachers. They are being utilized in Kruger National Park, where poachers often hunt rhinos to sell their horns on black markets across Asia.
These dogs, both German shepherds and Belgian malinois, are being the South African-based Paramount Group, just outside of Johannesburg. The dogs have proven to be extremely successful in tracking down poachers. One dog, named Killer, and his handler, Amos Mzimba, have caught some 40 poachers in four years.”
The dogs are trained to track contraband, weapons, and the scents of poachers. They are also able to repel down from helicopters with their handlers, which allows them to pinpoint and chase poachers more effectively. By the end of 2015, there will be 40 active canine units operating in Kruger National Park.