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Watch: Behind the scenes with Kruger’s K9 soldiers

By November 30, 2020Anti-poaching

Scent, one of the Doberman-Bloodhound crosses used by Kruger’s K9 anti-poaching Unit. Original Photo as published by The Lowvelder.

Linzetta Calitz, The Lowvelder  | November 27, 2020

It handles most of the assessments of canines within SANParks all over the country. Here, they are trained before they are deployed to the different sections in which they will operate.

K9 manager, Johan de Beer, said ever since dogs have become part of the war against poaching, around 90 per cent of poachers who come into the park are arrested, “and that is just because of the dogs”.

They became a part of the park family towards the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 when the number of rhino poached showed a drastic increase.

“In the beginning we were reactive. Where a rhino was shot, we reacted from a base to where we had heard the shots and tried to catch the suspects before they left the park.

“Then we started changing our tactics to being proactive. With this approach, we have detection zones where we pick up a spoor and chase them down before they shoot an animal.

“This proved to be much better and it significantly brought the poaching down, with us arresting many people before they shot rhino.”

Incursions did not necessarily decrease, but preventing rhino from getting poached did. De Beer went on to explain the different types of dogs that are employed for specific tasks.

These include, among others, Labradors, German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and spaniels. “Where we started with Belgian Malinois, more dogs were introduced in 2014/15.

“We started using Dobermann/bloodhound crosses. It is a cross that we have done in the police service in South Africa; we started it,” said De Beer.

When these two breeds are crossed, you get a slightly leaner body. Females also tend to be somewhat smaller, which works well in a helicopter.

“These dogs do well simply by having a slightly smaller body than the bloodhound. This is a very heavy-bodied dog and the reason we use them is because their scent is superior when it comes to tracking humans.”

When someone then enters a detection zone, canines are used to chase them down. “We have dogs that go 30 kilometres a day to chase poachers and that spoor is about 11 or 12 hours old.”

To prevent them from getting exhausted, a helicopter will reach the team on the ground and bring a fresh pair of legs to relieve the ones in action.

“Most of the sections in the park all have one or two spoor dogs. Then we use detection dogs that find ammunition, firearms, explosives and some of them track rhino horns and ivory as well – animal products.

“We do not have many biting dogs, or what we call them, patrol dogs. We have two of them at this stage, and another is on its way.

“They can do tracking, bite work, search an area for a person, search for ammunition and ivory… Whatever we need to do.”

While these animals are more all-rounders they still do not have the kind of scent that the Dobermann/bloodhound crosses have.

“They can easily track spoor as old as up to six hours, where the crosses can do much older ones. The oldest spoor we traced was about 28 hours old,” De Beer added.

Aside from tracking the spoor of poachers, they form part of routine searches at places like entrance gates as well. The K9 centre functions with the help of many sponsors, including the SANParks Honorary Rangers.

De Beer said they receive all their dogs at about 12 months old and then work until they are between eight and 10 years old, whereafter he finds them a suitable home to spend the rest of their days.