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Superior sensory resources for anti-poaching

In Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe our first anti-poaching dog units completed training and are ready to be deployed in the field.

Tracking dogs Gonarezhou NP Zimbabwe. Photo: Elsabe v. Westhuizen
Daison Hlelelwa and Edward Hlatshwayo.

We are continuously looking for the most effective tools and strategies to stop poaching in our project areas. Recently we published a story on “SMART”, which helps us to identify patterns of illegal field activities. But knowing where the poachers will most likely hit is not enough to prevent wildlife crime altogether. To ensure effective law enforcement, poachers need to be tracked down and handed over to the regional jurisdiction.

 

In Gonarezhou National Park (GNP), Zimbabwe, elephant poaching is a rising threat, specifically near the Mocambique border, which is sparsely populated. Together with our partner “Save the Elephants” we decided to deploy tracker dogs in the field, to track down poachers and help combat elephant poaching. 

Building an inseparable team

The first two dogs, German shepherds Roxy and Samy, were introduced to our project in July this year. They were hand picked by Jay Crafter from Invictus K9the professional trainer contracted to establish the canine programme in our project. He will also be monitoring our progress during the coming months. 

 

It took Roxy and Samy about one month to complete basic training, during which time we selected suitable dog handlers from the GNP ranger corps. Picking the right dog handler is as crucial as picking the right dog, because the handlers and dogs operate as an inseparable team. 

Edward Hlatshwayo, Promise Kanuka, and Daison Hlelelwa with anti-poaching dogs in Gonarezhou NP.

Edward Hlatshwayo (with Roxy), Promise Kanuka and Daison Hlelelwa (with Samy) successfully completed the anti-poaching training. 

Training to perfection

The dog’s incredible sensitive noses enable them to track spoor, at a speed and accuracy difficult to replicate by human trackers. Roxy and Samy were given three months of training to track human spoor through the bush, with tracks becoming progressively longer and harder. The dogs were also trained in detecting ivory, firearms and ammunition.

 

“The whole process was an incredible learning curve for everyone involved – the dogs, the handlers and all project staff”, explains Elsabe van der Westhuizen. “It was also a very exciting process, following the development of both the dogs and the handlers, as both became more confident and experienced in the jobs that were required of them.”

 

Even when not assigned on a tracking job, the dog handlers are involved in every aspect of their dog’s daily routine, like cleaning kennels, grooming and practicing their acquired skills. To ensure the dog’s health, they are checked daily as part of the grooming process.  

First dog handlers specialized in wildlife crime in Zimbabwe

In November, Edward Hlatshwayo, Promise Kanuka, and Daison Hlelelwa successfully completed their challenging training course. Congratulation on that! They are now the first three professional dog handlers specialized to track down poachers in Zimbabwe. All three originate from communities adjacent to Gonarezhou, and have proved themselves to be excellent rangers.

 

While Roxy and Samy easily conquered the hearts of our staff and proved to be very effective in training, the challenge now awaits out in the field. Our team is incredibly motivated to succeed and eager to demonstrate a meaningful impact on poaching in GNP.