Anti-Poaching Dogs Are Protecting Africa’s Wildlife

Poachers in search of profit have driven many of Africa’s iconic wildlife species close to extinction. Rhinos are hunted for their horns, elephants are taken down for their tusks, zebras are poached for their pelts, and baby gorillas are stolen from their families. It’s a critical problem that has decimated entire populations, and fighting back has always been an uphill battle. Recent years, however, have seen a significant change in the number of poaching incidents. Anti-poaching K9 units have been deployed across the continent to join the effort against illegal poaching.

When the idea first emerged, people were skeptical. While dogs have been used for police enforcement and military missions for generations, they weren’t thought to be well-suited for the difficult task of taking down poachers in one of the world’s harshest environments. But when a dog named Ngwenya first took up post at Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2010, the idea soon caught on. Within a few weeks, the newly trained dog successfully tracked down poachers who cut off a rhino’s horn. From there, more dogs were being trained to join the fight.

Meet the anti-poaching dogs trained to save South Africa's rhinos –

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German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Bloodhounds, Springer Spaniels, and mixes of those breeds are chosen for their extreme endurance, energy, and work ethic. They’re trained in three main areas: patrol, detection, and attack. A day’s work for an anti-poaching dog includes searching large areas for signs of poachers and distressed animals.

They can detect animal items including rhino horns and other body parts, and they sniff out ammunition stores and poaching camps. If the poachers resist arrest and run away, the dogs are released with the intent to attack. A Belgian Malinois has an estimated top speed of 30 mph and a bite force of 1400 psi. They leap over fallen logs, scale cliffs, and swim across rivers to reach their prey and disable them until rangers catch up and take over.

In recent years the use of dogs in anti-poaching and law-enforcement has proved to be increasingly successful especially…

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In only a few short years, the use of anti-poaching K9s has spread to nearly every major nature reserve in Africa. Kruger National Park has a team of 50 working dogs including a Bloodhound/Doberman mix named Kilalo with over 18 poaching arrests to his record.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the largest refuge for East Africa’s rhinos and the home to the world’s last remaining white rhinos. They unleashed a K9 team in 2013. The dogs cover over 90,000 acres of Kenyan land and work together according to their specific strengths. The Bloodhounds are able to track down hunting camps in the dead of night, and the Belgians are fierce protectors intimidating every poacher they encounter.

VIDEO: Anti-poaching dog free falls his way into the Guinness World Records books!

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In South Africa, dogs have been trained to skydive out of helicopters into hostile poaching areas. The purpose is to get dogs to the front lines as soon as possible so they can track and bring down high profile poachers. Their opponents are armed with high-tech weapons and motivated by the possibilities of big pay days, but the dogs show no fear as they rush into action.

The implementation of anti-poaching K9 units has had a dramatic impact on the war against poaching. South African National Parks announced last year that in 10 months, the K9 unit at Kruger had “successfully tracked and taken down over 90% of the poachers arrested in the KNP.” The dogs’ impressive reputation is also serving as a deterrent to keep poachers out of reservation areas. Africa’s wildlife is still threatened by poaching, but man’s best friend is giving endangered species a fighting chance.