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THE SECRET HEROES OF RHINO CONSERVATION

Meet the Anti-Poaching Dogs

When we think of rhino poaching, our first thought often jumps to the people who dedicate their lives to saving our Rhino, who work tirelessly to protect these gentle giants. But there is a group of protectors you might not know about, the new foot soldiers in the fight against rhino poaching, Anti-Poaching Dogs.

It is sad that anti-poaching units are still necessary. In an ideal world, the gentle rhino would be able to live a long, peaceful life alongside all of Africa’s other wonderful species.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the last decade, 9,442 African rhinos have been lost to poaching. A devastating fact, but one with hope on the horizon – numbers have been on the decline since 2015. In 2015, there were 1,349 rhinos poached, this dropped to 754 in 2019. This is still 754 rhino too many but it shows the incredible impact the communities, organisations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to rhino poaching have made.

And much of this success and can be attributed to our loyal canine friends. Dogs have been introduced to anti-poaching units and have been extremely successful in the fight against rhino poaching.

Daryll Pleasants is one of the pioneers in Anti-Poaching Dogs. He served for 8 years as a dog trainer in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps before setting up his own dog training business. It was after a volunteer trip to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, assisting with training of dog teams, that he realised what an impact dogs could have on aiding anti-poaching efforts. In 2016, he founded Animals Saving Animals (ASA) and now works along side a number of African conservation organisations to assist in wildlife conservation by providing specialist Anti-Poaching Dogs.

Alongside ASA is the Paramount Group, whose canine training facility has also deployed dogs throughout Africa to assist the continent’s various anti-poaching operations.

Dogs, are by nature, natural and effective hunters. They have an excellent sense of smell and are extremely quick. In favourable conditions, the Anti-Poaching Dogs can alert rangers to the presence of a poacher up to one kilometre away. This means that anti-poaching teams are better equipped to track at night, while covering greater ground. No technology could work better.

One of the greatest success stories of Anti-Poaching Dogs is playing out in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The Kruger National Park is a rhino poaching hotspot. However, the dogs of their anti-poaching team have become indispensable. In fact, the anti-poaching team is considered the best in Africa – since 2011, over 90% of the arrests that have been made in the Kruger National Park have been through the assistance of their canine unit.

Anne Kruger, who works in the K9 Conservation Unit, states that the dogs have reacted extremely positively to this new role: “They find great joy out of doing what they are born and meant to do, which is hunting. And they love having that bond with a handler as well, they need to have purpose”.

We have a deep respect for Anti-Poaching Dogs. They undergo years of training and do not just assist in tracking down poachers, they are also trained to sniff out and detect firearms, rhino horns, ivory, pangolin scales, bush meat or other concealed illegal products. They are trained to detect the track or scent of a poacher and run until they find the culprit. These animals are extremely dedicated, driven and crucial to rhino conservation efforts.

The war against poaching continues but optimism prevails. If we can take anything from the incredible work and effectiveness of the Anti- Poaching Dogs, it is perhaps that humanity achieves much more when we align ourselves alongside nature and her wildlife, rather than place ourselves above it.

WANT TO MEET ONE OF THESE CANINE HEROES YOURSELF?

Top photo by Sean Viljoen

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