Tracking and detection dogs are a tool the Kruger National Park would struggle to do without as they are responsible for the majority of poacher apprehensions.
According to Craig Williams, a field ranger and dog handler in the Kruger National Park (KNP), there are 54 working dogs in the Kruger, which are tasked with detection and tracking. Breeds such as German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are used primarily for tracking while breeds like Doberman Bloodhound crosses are used for the detection of things like rhino horns, elephant tusks, firearms and explosives. They are typically deployed around the park’s borders and points of entry while the trackers are deployed with rangers to pursue poachers.
Williams was speaking during a media trip to the Canine Centre near Skukuza on Wednesday. Dogs and handlers are positioned throughout the park’s two dozen sections, but come to the Centre on a quarterly basis for training. Dogs have been used extensively in the Kruger for the last decade, but the Canine Centre was only opened in 2015.
Williams said a dog is another tool in the rangers’ toolbox, but a tool they would struggle to do without. “Dogs are the game changers. We’d be lost without them,” he said. The park would like to have more dogs, but they also need more funding, handlers and facilities, as a dog is only as good as its handler and vice versa.
The Kruger National Park is a challenging environment to operate in, with dogs and handlers having to deal with temperatures of up to 45 degrees in summer, wild animals, thorns, tickbite fever and of course armed poachers. Both dogs and handlers need to be quite fit, as they sometimes have to track poachers for distances of 30 km a day.
Nevertheless, Williams said that 90% of the anti-poaching successes have been due to dogs. When rangers follow poachers’ spoor, a dog is always present and as a result, dogs contribute to most arrests. The now retired Killer, for example, facilitated the arrest of more than 100 poachers and a Doberman/bloodhound cross that has been working for two years has also recorded well over 100 arrests.
Dogs are actively used in the park, and aside from those deployed at the entrances to the Kruger, dogs are sent out on a daily basis to track down and apprehend poachers.
Generally, tracking is done with the dog on a 15 metre lead, but rangers are also turning to releasing a number of dogs and following them by helicopter. Dogs are fitted with GPS collars and harnesses in case they get lost.
The Sanparks dogs in the Kruger are sometimes joined by dogs from the South African Police Service and South African Revenue Service.
Dogs are generally bought by Sanparks, from companies like K9 Conservation, the Genesis Canine Group and Denel Mechem, but several have been donated, by entities like Paramount. The Honorary Rangers association and others also provide donations to support the dogs.
In addition to security missions, Williams pointed out that in his sector alone, more than a thousand snares have been removed in the last three months, as rangers also have to deal with subsistence poaching/hunting of animals.