Kruger National Park, South Africa’s biggest and best-known game park, has been the epicentre of rhino poaching for decades. New technologies are constantly being unleashed to combat poaching, but using hunting dogs, a method thousands of years old, is also proving effective.
Theresa Sowry, CEO of the Southern African Wildlife College, speaks about the role of dogs in preventing poaching today, “We have to develop and design new tools and what is nice about a dog is that it’s an old tool, it’s just been applied in a new sense and they really are having a fantastic impact on poaching today.”
These dogs have become the foot soldiers in the fight against poaching. Anne Kruger, who works in the K9 Conservation Unit, describes how the dogs react positively to their work, “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 a purpose.”
The dogs are proving to be extremely effective and the team are considered the best anti-poaching unit on the continent. Ike Phaahla, the Communications and Marketing Manager at Kruger National Park, stresses the effectiveness of the hunting dogs, “Over 90% of the arrests that have been effected thus far in the Kruger National Park since 2011 have been through the assistance of the canine unit.”
Special training facilities have now been established around the country to equip canines with the skills they need to help the conservation effort.
Eric Ichikowitz, Senior Vice President of the Paramount Group, explains the wide-reach of his company’s training facility in Rustenburg, “Our canine training facility has deployed dogs right throughout the African continent, both in law enforcement as well as anti-poaching operations. We’ve deployed dogs as far afield as Malaysia, so our footprint is quite wide and diverse.”
The story of dogs in what is now Kruger National Park goes back almost 150 years to ‘Jock’, perhaps the most famous dog in Southern Africa. His true story was immortalised in the book “Jock of the Bushveld” by South African author Sir James ‘Percy’ Fitzgerald who told of his travels with the dog in the late 1800s.
Lazarus Mkhonto, Manager of the Jock Safari Lodge, talks about the book’s legacy, “The dog became the main character with its braveness, and it saved Fitzpatrick on so many numerous occasions out here, (Jock Safari Lodge) is the actual location where they used to stop.”
As the battles continue in the war on poaching, the dog handlers are optimistic about the project’s chances, with one telling CNN, “The issue of predicting that this war will end, I don’t know. But we are one step, I think we are ten steps even, ahead of the poachers now, I think we are winning.”