The poachers did everything to try and deter Annie, covering their shoes in sponge and continually backtracking and circling to try and confuse her, but they were no match for Annie.
The efforts of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's conservation canine and her handler, identified only as Colin, have led to the arrests of three suspected rhino poachers in Balule Private Nature Reserve in Limpopo.
Annie, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois dog trained to track humans, and her team have been responsible for the arrest of 12 suspected poachers this year alone.
"Her ability to operate at night with her handler is seen as a major step forward in the fight against rhino poaching," says the conservation organisation.
The Balule capture, it says, may be one of the "most exciting" anti-poaching follow-ups of the year. "Annie and Colin tracked through the night to secure this victory for wildlife.
"Suspected poacher tracks were found during a late afternoon anti-poaching patrol and Annie and Colin, with assistant, Mervyn and the EWT’s canine handler trainee, (only identified as) Shay were soon deployed on the tracks. They followed the tracks through the night and literally completed a marathon in pursuit of the suspects through the darkness."
The entire community assisted with the chase, including Balule regional anti-poaching units, the SAPS, and a large number of Hoedspruit farm watch members who closed potential exit routes.
"The operation was skillfully coordinated by the Balule operations room, and by daybreak, the suspects had been successfully contained within the reserve. With sunrise, air support could be brought in, and two fixed wing aircraft (Flying for Rhinos and Game Reserves United), the Wild Skies Aviation chopper, a gyrocopter, and the Hoedspruit Airforce Base’s Oryx helicopter joined the mission," says the EWT.
The ground-tracking team was joined by the Southern African Wildlife College Dog Unit’s pack hounds, with the huge effort culminating in the arrest of three suspects and the seizure of a rifle with silencer and other poaching equipment.
There was more help: the EWT’s conservation canine, Fury, who is trained to detect rhino horn, ivory, and ammunition, with Shay, searched for evidence at key sites.
Annie has been working with Colin since June this year and was trained at the wildlife college with financial support of the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust.
"This is a shining example of how a community can stand together against the scourge of rhino poaching facing our country. The EWT is proud to be associated with such a dedicated team and salutes everyone who was involved in this well-coordinated effort in the dark, in Big Five country."