Canine patrol: Dogs are being trained to track and capture rhino poachers.

SANParks is deeply into a programme to train dogs to help bring poachers to justice.

Two breeds of dog will be deployed in the frontline of operations. There are plans to use foxhounds – which have an especially keen sense of smell – to track poachers in much the same way as dogs are used to corner foxes for the horse-riding hunt pack in Britain.

The foxhounds are being selected and trained this year: they need to be habituated to following human scents and weened off their natural inclination to chase other animals as prey.

Bruce Leslie, Regional Ranger: Special Operations and Anti-Poaching in Kruger, says the foxhounds will naturally compete with each other – they will be rewarded for good tracking achievement by food – but that, perhaps surprisingly, it will not be the pack leaders which will be at the front of an actual hot pursuit follow-up.

“It will be the shy dog, the one who gets excluded by the Alpha male, who will make the running. He or she will have the hunger, the need to get the food, the reward…”

Leslie says the aim is to deploy the dogs as soon as possible on to spoor of poachers. This will be done by helicopter – and the dogs will set off by themselves. They won’t have a handler, but they will have a GPS collar-wearing animal among them, which will enable a chopper-borne “fire force” to be dropped once the poachers have been found.

Says Leslie: “No human can out-run these dogs and they won’t be put off by anti-tracking techniques either…”

A second breed of dog – a German Shepherd cross – will be used to help collar trackers. Although they also have a good sense of smell, they are also more of an “attack dog” than are the foxhounds.

The Unitrans VW group has just donated a VW Amarok four-wheel-drive bakkie with which the dogs will be transported.