The country’s anti-poaching operators will soon be able to call on the acute noses of specially trained dogs in their battle to end the indiscriminate slaughter of rhino.
“We see foxhounds as the new generation in the poaching war and they are definitely on the rhinos’ side,” said Louis Lemmer of the SANParks honorary ranger corps, the organisation behind the introduction of the dogs.
“Until recently the public face of counter-poaching was that of an armed ranger putting his life on the line for our rhino. This is going to change with the deployment of the three specially trained dogs to assist field rangers in tracking operations against poachers and those suspected of involvement in this heinous crime.”
Three foxhounds, the same breed used in the traditional English bloodsport of fox hunting, are in the final stages of specialist training and have already learnt to ignore animal spoor in favour of that left by humans.
“They are busy with a daily tracking routine, are well-balanced, keen and boisterous and show an eagerness which bodes well for them but not for those they will be tracking.
“The next phase of training will be operational where the dogs will learn to operate as a unit with handlers in bush situations, often coming into contact with wild animals and working under dangerous circumstances. We are confident the dogs will be working in the Kruger National Park in the near future,” he said.
The decision to buy and train the dogs was made possible by a R43000 sponsorship from the Unite Against Poaching project to increase the efficiency of counter-poaching teams. The dogs will be deployed as part of rapid reaction teams which can reach incident scenes quickly and the highly-tuned olfactory sense of the three bitches is expected to cut down on the number of poachers who manage to evade capture and arrest.
“We are confident what are tail wagging bundles of energy will become a poacher’s worst nightmare,” Lemmer said, adding more rhino dogs were in the pipeline, dependent on funding.
He was supportive of “the many people and organisations contributing significantly” to stopping the rhino poaching scourge but had harsh words for those abusing it.
“There are unscrupulous people who see rhino poaching as an opportunity to advance their own agendas or gain financially at the cost of rhino and unsuspecting members of the public.
“Sadly this is true of people tasked with seeing to the well-being of these animals as well as those who raise funds and support in the name of counter-poaching operations. This causes suspicion and uncertainty. We applaud each and every instance where people are identified, exposed and prosecuted and call on the public to be circumspect as regards their support for counter-poaching initiatives.”