Canine in the Kruger National Park – used for tracking and capturing poachers as well as detecting contraband like firearms and rhino horn – have been described as a game-changer since their introduction to the park, with an arrest success rate of more than 80%.
On recent media trip to the Kruger National Park K9 Centre at Skukuza, canine manager Johan de Beer said in the space of a year, the dogs have been responsible for 168 of the 200 odd poaching related arrests in Kruger. “I don’t think we’d be able to do the job without them,” de Beer said.
In total, there are some 53 dogs in the park at the moment, which de Beer says is the largest anti-poaching canine unit in the world. Dogs are mainly acquired from Denel Mechem, Paramount Group and Genesis Canine Group as well as a few other certified companies. Trained, thoroughbred working dogs are not cheap, and typically cost between R35 and R50 000. Training a handler also costs tens of thousands of Rands.
Kruger is not expected to acquire too many more dogs in the future but will add another three this year. Most dogs are housed at the K9 centre at Skukuza, which was established around eight months ago with donor funding. According to de Beer, the facility was built due to the need to retrain and evaluate the Park’s dogs, which need to be certified every year. Dogs are deployed from the facility around the Park as needed.
De Beer said they started in the Kruger with four Belgian Malinois dogs but use bloodhounds for tracking as they are more sensitive as well as foxhounds and bloodhound crosses. He said huge successes have been recorded with the bloodhounds. For instance, since August 2016 one dog has resulted in 42 arrests.
Last year Kruger introduced sniffer dogs at some of the Park’s gates and these are typically Labradors, Malinois, German shepherds and spaniels. Ten firearm detection and three species detection dogs, able to detect rhino horn and other animal parts, are deployed at the moment for these duties.
One of the most famous canines, a Belgian Malinois called Killer, was awarded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Gold Medal in January last year for combating rhino poaching and leading to the arrest of more than 100 poachers in the Kruger National Park. Killer is still active but at eight and a half years old he is no spring chicken.
In spite of successes, operating canines in the Kruger National Park is not without its challenges – de Beer is currently recovering from tick bite fever, which he says is quite common – and there is also the threat of malaria. One dog was recently injured by a kudu while two dogs have been lost and never recovered from the bush. Now de Beer and his team are developing a tracking harness for the dogs that is integrated into the CMore situational awareness system used by the Park, and this has been tested extensively.
Dogs have been described as a game changer in the Kruger National Park when it comes to combating poaching, and form part of the Park’s multi-pronged approach to reducing wildlife crime. The Postcode Meerkat wide area surveillance system introduced into the Park late last year has also resulted in the apprehension of a large number of poachers. It is used to detect intrusions, and dogs and rangers are then sent out to apprehend suspected poachers.
Such measures are making it harder for poachers to take rhino horns even though the number of incursions has risen dramatically. According to statistics provided by SANParks, in 2015 826 rhinos were killed in the park and poaching activity increased to 2 466 incidents. Poaching declined in 2016 with 662 rhinos poached but poaching activity increased to an all-time high of 2 883 incidents. This compares to 425 rhinos poached in 2012 while there were 876 incidents of poaching activity.
Anti-poaching dogs are not just deployed in the Kruger National Park – de Beer said they are in all SANParks parks that contain rhinos.