The Anti-poaching Dog Squad

Canine anti-poaching units are highly effective. In recent years poachers are being arrested thanks to four-legged help in various protected areas in Africa.

Antipoaching dog in Zambia
Two year old Saxon and her handler Moses on duty in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Photo: McKenzie Homan

3 March 2016

“The future of elephants is in our hands” – that’s the motto of today’s UN World Wildlife Day. Elephants are threatened in their refuges across Africa by a massive upsurge in poaching for ivory. Approximately 30,000 elephants are currently being poached each year.


To tackle the problem conservationists and protected area authorities have started looking into high tech solutions to counteract the increasing poaching threat. For example drones have been proposed as a perfect solution to survey protected areas and their elephant populations. But are they really?


According to a recent article in the Economist, experience from Kruger National Park in South Africa shows that a low tech tool works much better: man’s best friend. 

The use of dogs in anti-poaching and law-enforcement has an increasingly proven track record of success in a number of conservation areas across Africa. Wildlife crime detection dogs operating at gates, borders and strategic road blocks are able to detect the movement and trafficking of illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn and bush meat as well as firearms, ammunition and illegally harvested hard wood timbers.

The North Luangwa Dog Squad

In November 2015, FZS created the North Luangwa Canine Unit (NLCU) to improve law enforcement in North Luangwa National Park, one of Zambia’s most impressive wilderness areas and a park that we have been supporting for 30 years We entered into an agreement with Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) who source and train rescue dogs for wildlife crime detection in the US. They then travel with the dogs to Zambia to select, train and mentor human handlers in dog welfare, behaviour, training, and operations. WD4C selects mostly dogs that have been abandoned or given over to a rescue shelter because they are unsuitable for a home environment, typically because they need high stimulus, without which they can be destructive and too boisterous or even, aggressive.


Vicka, a two-year old female black Labrador/Malinois cross breed, came from a family unable to handle her energy. They kept her tied up. Sara, an almost two-year old Pit Bull/Labrador, was very close to being euthanized after being rejected by four different homes and shelters. Giving these dogs a new purpose and a second chance in life adds an emotional dimension to their story. Now they are able to detect ivory, rhino horn, ammunition, firearms, bush meat and an endangered hardwood, and have a very important role to play in North Luangwa. They have very quickly become part of the team helping to prevent wildlife crime and they are already proving successful.

Successful deployment

Sara and Vicka have just completed their first month of deployment as the North Luangwa Canine Unit. In the last two weeks Vicka, and her handler Namabanda Namabanda, and the rest of the canine team have removed ammunition as well as one home-made shotgun from circulation. As guns are shared among the poaching community the removal of even one gun has a large impact on poachers, let alone the deterrent message sent out across the area. In case that wasn't impressive enough, Vicka and team also found two bush-meat caches containing hippo, common duiker, and black lechwe meat being amassed for sale in the city. These dogs and handlers have been training hard for these resultes and their determination and dedication is paying off already. We couldn't be more proud of their work. Good job!

The FZS North Luangwa Canine Unit is funded by the Foundation Temperatio/Hedi Wyss.

Related Stories