A pack of dogs have been trained to protect South Africa’s wildlife – and have already saved 45 rhinos from being poached.
Many breeds of dog from beagles to bloodhounds have been used to protect the endangered species from poachers. The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before beginning to work at 18 months old.
Sean Viljoen, 29, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has shared photographs of the dogs in action at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger National Park. He is the owner of a production company called Conservation Film Company and aims to use tell the stories of those on the frontline of conservation, sharing their stories of hope.
Johan van Straaten, who is a K9 Master at the college, said: ‘The data we collect for this applied learning project aimed at informing best practice, shows we have prevented approximately 45 rhino being killed since the free tracking dogs became operational in February 2018.
‘In the areas where the Southern African Wildlife College patrol, the success rate of the dogs is around 68 per cent using both on and off leash free tracking dogs, compared to between three to five per cent with no canine capacity.
‘The game changer has been the free tracking dogs who are able to track at speeds much faster than a human can in terrain where the best human trackers would lose spoor.
As such, the project is helping ensure the survival of southern Africa’s rich biodiversity and its wildlife including its rhino which have been severely impacted by wildlife crime. South Africa holds nearly 80 per cent of the world’s rhino.
‘Over the past decade over 8,000 rhino have been lost to poaching making it the country hardest hit by this poaching onslaught.’ The dogs which include a Texan Black-and-Tan Coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, Foxhounds and Blue Ticks are trained to ‘benefit required counter poaching initiatives’ which includes free tracking, incursion, detection, patrol and apprehension dogs.
Dog handlers Precious Malapane and Robynne Wasas are both part of the ‘K9 unit fast response’ team and help to train the anti-poaching dogs. Johan van Straaten added: ‘They begin training from birth and are socialised from a very young age.
‘They learn how to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience. ‘At six months we put all that training together more formally – they do have the necessary skill set to do the work at a younger age but are not mature enough to handle all the pressures of real operations.
‘Depending on a number of factors dogs become operational at around 18 months old.’
On February 3, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries reported that a total of 594 rhinos were poached in the country throughout 2019, Save The Rhino reported.
Poaching numbers peaked at 1,215 in 2014 but this is the fifth year in a row poaching rates have declined.