Tracker dogs trained by Denel are having increasing success in curbing the smuggling of rhino horn and ivory in the Kruger National Park.
Six tracker dog teams consisting of dogs and their handlers have been deployed in the KNP since September last year, in terms of an agreement between Denel Mechem and South African National Parks. Ten more dogs will soon see action at gates and entrances to the park to detect hidden firearms and ammunition or smuggled contraband.
Dr Hannes Slabbert, Senior Manager: Canine Business at Mechem, says well-trained dog and handler teams remain among the most effective solutions to track and apprehend poachers in a vast terrain such as KNP. “Our success shows that the number of rhinos killed for their horns in the iconic park would have been much higher if not for the actions of our canine units,” he says.
Mechem has a global reputation for the quality of its sniffer dogs used to detect landmines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones. Dog and handler teams have proven their value in landmine detection operations in countries such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A team of 30 Mechem handlers and dogs are currently deployed in Turkey to support demining activities.
The special abilities of the dogs are, however, increasingly also being used to protect South Africa’s wildlife resources from poachers and smugglers.
Slabbert says the tracker dogs used in the KNP can detect the scent of a smuggler up to six hours after an incident occurred and then follow it over vast distances. Once an operation starts, fresh dogs are often flown in by helicopter to continue following the spoors.
It takes up to 12 weeks to train a dog, together with its handler; some of the most successful canine sleuths come from Mechem’s own dog breeding programme.
The 10 new teams will be deployed at entrance and exit gates to the park. They will conduct random surveillance of vehicles and then alert their handlers when suspicious substances are detected.
Slabbert says the escalating global concerns about border security and aviation safety are contributing to a growth in demand for South African-trained dogs. Mechem is in the process of negotiating contracts to train dogs and handlers for custom services in Senegal and canines used by the Ivory Coast defence force.
Mechem has developed a unique system which combines modern technology with the dogs’ capabilities to search for and uncover a wide range of substances. The Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System – MEDDS – involves collecting air samples from suspect vehicles and containers and taking them to the dogs in a controlled environment.
When the dogs confirm the suspicions, investigators take further steps to inspect the cargo.