Johannesburg - Conservation dogs are making their mark against rhino poaching, with a dog named Annie tracking down three poachers in one evening on the eastern border of the Kruger National park this week.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust provides trained dogs to reserves to assist in their anti-poaching operations. The dogs are trained to either track humans or detect wildlife contraband like rhino horn, ivory or ammunition. There are ten such dogs in the field, with more in training. One is based at Hluhluwe iMfolozi in KZN.
Annie has been trained to track and is used to follow up on poacher sightings, fence incursions and to follow poachers away from crime scenes. This week, her handler, identified only as Colin, described the action.
“During the early hours of the morning I received a call from one of our neighbouring reserves. One of their night observation posts thought they had seen a poacher. I was asked to assist in the follow up with Annie. The poachers had unfortunately walked in the same area as the field rangers making it difficult for me to indicate to Annie which tracks I wanted her to follow. We followed the tracks visually until we found where the poachers had split away into the bush. The poachers were wearing socks over there shoes which made visual tracking very difficult. It became almost impossible once they had turned off into the bush but this is where Annie’s tracking skills came into play. Them wearing socks had no effect on her tracking ability.
"I put her on the tracks and she immediately started to pull on the trail. I have learnt to read Annie’s body language and she can read mine. It seems that we can both read when one of us are serious. In this case I could see that her full focus was on the tracks. This was a good sign.
"Annie tracked through various terrains until I got a visual of the two poachers lying in long grass. They were arrested and a rifle with silencer, ammunition, an axe and other poaching equipment were recovered. Undoubtedly the life of a rhino was saved today.
"But the action was not over. In a later follow up operation by the SAPS to arrest the poachers’ pick up team, one suspect was arrested but another fled on foot into a neighbouring reserve. I was again asked to track the suspect with Annie. As there were numerous people at the scene contaminating the area, I placed Annie in the vehicle driven by the suspect and gave her the command to follow up. This enables her to know who we are looking for and when she exited the vehicle it did not take her long to get on track.
"We tracked for about 1 km through very thick bush, made contact and arrested a very tired and demoralised suspect who thought he had evaded the law.”
"The Endangered Wildlife Trust is very proud to be associated with this excellent team who have been involved in seven arrests this year alone." said Dr Kelly Marnewick, Senior Trade Officer in the trust's Wildlife in Trade Programme. "With this kind of talent, dedication and team work, poachers are not going to be safe in Colin and Annie’s neighbourhood."
Annie was trained at the Southern African Wildlife College.