A helping paw in the fight against wildlife crime

Three wildlife crime detection dogs join the fight against illegal poaching in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

The North Luangwa ecosystem, Zambia, is one of Africa‘s last untouched wilderness areas and spans 22,000 square kilometers. At its heart lies North Luangwa National Park (NLNP), a protected area rich in biodiversity. The park holds the country‘s only population of black rhinos, and is also home to elephants and one of the highest densities of lions in the region.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) has supported the North Luangwa Conservation Programme (NLCP) for over 30 years, focusing on protected area management and law enforcement. FZS’ support contributed to a reduction in poaching during the 1980’s and 1990’s and the successful reintroduction of black rhinos to Zambia in 2003.
Nowadays, there is an increasing demand for wildlife products to fuel the highly lucrative illegal wildlife trade. Every day, thousands of endangered animals, plants, and their resources continue to be transported around the world for use as pets, traditional medicines, clothing, and trophies. The illegal wildlife trade continues to devastate wildlife populations and represents a significant threat to species’ survival.
In an effort to combat the illegal poaching of wildlife and trafficking of wildlife products in NLNP, the North Luangwa Canine Unit (NLCU) was established in 2015 in a collaboration between FZS and Working Dogs for Conservation. The use of sniffer dogs is a relatively recent tactic in the fight against wildlife crime, yet one that has seen increased effectiveness in the detection of contraband across Africa.
Now, the NLCU welcomes three new additions to help combat the rising threat of illegal poaching in NLNP. Tango, Scout, and Gypsy-Rose arrived from K9 Force in South Africa and join wildlife crime detection veterans Sara, Vicka, and Fenix.
Benjamin Van Zyl, Specialist Canine Technical Advisor for the NLCP. Tango is a highly driven Belgium Malinois and eager to work. He is very good with all the handlers and children. Benjamin Van Zyl, Specialist Canine Technical Advisor for the NLCP.
“Scout is a sweetheart Belgium Malinois and also highly driven. She is very good with people and switches on and off in a moment. She is the sweetest dog, very loving until we go for work then it’s all about work for her. Gypsy-Rose is probably the most loving dog that I’ve seen in my life. She is independent but she will jump on top of you to be in your arms, she cares more for love than the toy (reward).”

Gallery: The North Luangwa Canine Unit‘s latest arrivals

The three latest additions will receive ongoing training at NLNP. Through a training technique known as ‘imprinting‘, Tango, Scout, and Gypsy-Rose will be taught to recognise the unique scents of different wildlife products and firearms using their keen sense of smell. To encourage eagerness in the dogs to sniff out these scents, positive reinforcement through play and praise is used when the dog successfully detects a scent, a training technique known as ‘drive development‘.
Benjamin Van Zyl The dogs are still on imprinting level and doing well so far. Benjamin Van Zyl
“We are doing more drive development and then imprinting on odours. All the dogs are doing very well and reacting well to the wildlife around the airstrip. We take them for walks so they get used to the other animals in the Park.”
The hard work of the NLCU resulted in the prevention of more than 200 instances of attempted illegal trafficking in 2019. Items found included ivory, pangolin scales, a lion skin, shotguns, and bushmeat.
It is hoped that the success of the NLCU will encourage the use of sniffer dogs across the country. Tango, Scout, and Gypsy-Rose now, too, play an integral part in preventing wildlife crime, helping to protect and conserve the North Luangwa ecosystem.

Gallery: The North Luangwa Canine Unit in action

Header image: A NLCU Ranger patrols with one of the dogs. The NLCU prevented more than 200 instances of attempted illegal trafficking in 2019. © Mana Meadows

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