Protection of Horned Giants
The Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the world’s foremost national parks and an un-spoiled wilderness. It is also one of the most developed and accessible ecotourism destinations in South Africa. Nearly 1 million people visit Kruger National Park every year. This wildlife sanctuary is larger in area than the entire country of Israel. Since 1960, the black rhino population has declined by 97.6%. Poachers remain the biggest threat to this species and Kruger is the most important target for poachers.
Johannes De Beer looks grimly at the corpse of the Rhino lying in front of him in the quilted sand. The horn is sawn off; only the bloody stump is still visible. Once again, well-equipped poachers have succeeded in their murderous hunt.
In 2016, 702 rhinos were poached – virtually two every day – throughout South Africa. In a desperate attempt to save the rhino, adult as well as orphaned baby rhinos are being dehorned, but this is not a sustainable solution.
However a well-trained anti-poaching dog team is giving the fight for the survival of the rhinos in Kruger a glimmer of hope. These dogs and their handlers are the unsung heroes of war against rhino poaching More than 180 poachers have been arrested in Kruger since January 2016. In only 8 months, 458 rhino carcasses were discovered in the Park; 99 fewer carcasses than in the same period the year before.
The dogs are bred off-site, trained, and introduced to the K9 unit when they are about one year old. In Kruger, 53 dogs are on standby for anti-poaching duty. Their training continues with the unit. Naturally, there is an incredibly strong bond between each dog and his handler.
Bayer supports these K9 units by aidinig the health and well-being of the dogs. “These highly trained and very expensive dogs work in very remote and sometimes extremely inhospitable terrain in a part of the world that is rife with often fatal tick borne disease like Erlichiosis or Babesiosis”, explains Dr. Clint Austin, veterinarian and Head of Clinical Development & Regulatory Affairs for Bayer Animal Health in South Africa.
Out in the field, parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and flies are waiting for suitable victims such as the dogs. The bites are not just annoying – tick bites in particular can also transmit serious diseases, leading to severe illness and possible death. For this reason it´s important that parasites are repelled before they have an opportunity to bite.
“Health care and disease prevention are extremely important for our dogs”, says Johannes De Beer, Head of the nationwide K9 anti-poaching units. “I like the innovative collar which provides 8 month protection. It keeps fleas and ticks successfully under control and is an easy solution to protect the dogs with a single application. It enables us and the dogs to concentrate better on our real task: hunting poachers.”
The dog team is fairly cosmopolitan, comprising of attack dogs (Belgian Malinois), dedicated trackers (bloodhounds and fox hounds), as well as sniffer dogs at the various entrances to the park which are specially trained to sniff out rhino horn, elephant tusks and firearms/ammunition.
Trackers patrol the park and alert the authorities if there is any evidence of poaching. Then the dogs are brought in by 4 x 4 vehicles or occasionally, a helicopter, to track them.
It is a tough daily struggle to protect the lives of rhinos and secure their survival in the long term. Fortunately, the White Rhino population is starting to recover, due to anti-poaching and protection strate¬gies throughout South Africa, in which the dogs and their handlers play a very important role.
- Black Rhino has a total- rapidly diminishing- population of about 5000 in the whole of Southern and Eastern Africa
- White Rhino are recovering from the threat of extinction; from only 50 left in the wild, to 20,405 now roaming the grasslands
Sniffing and Tracking Heroes
Sniffer dogs are trained in finding weapons and ammunition, or rhino horn and ivory, at the entrances and exits to the park. The dogs specialize in one, or another, but not both. Blood hounds track old scents. In Kruger, there are two brothers and two sisters that have a high success rate. Betty has notched up 17 arrests in 9 months and Betty’s sister, has made 47 arrests. Belgian Malinois shepherds are excellent at tracking fresh scent and make good attack dogs. Fox hounds are also employed in the anti-poaching unit