“After 35 years I know how to coach a team,” he said.
The American “houndsman extraordinaire” and the Southern African Wildlife College believe their new star “players” may be just what is needed to help win the war against poachers in the Kruger National Park.
Braman’s team of 10 counter-poaching dogs from Texas will arrive today at the college, which is based 10km west of the Kruger, to join its highly motivated, 27-strong K9 unit.
The specially trained, free-running pack dogs are a cross between black and tan and redbone breeds and have been bred for nearly a century in the US to track humans for law enforcement.
Braman, who has 35 years of dog-training and crime-fighting experience under his belt, anticipates the pack will increase the apprehension rate of poachers by as much as 60%.
The dogs will track for 30km to 40km and then “use whatever force is necessary” to hold the suspects once they have caught up to them. If the suspect fights, the dogs will too.
“But if the person stops fighting, the dogs will become passive,” Braman said.
The college said that while on-leash tracker dogs are commonly used by counter-poaching teams, pack dogs that run off the leash are relatively new to the scene, but already proving their worth.
“They can track at high speeds over even the most difficult terrain. Recent exercises have seen them cover 30km in two hours. Their top speeds are around 40km/* . Using aerial support to follow the dogs allows the rangers to catch up valuable time.”
The dogs, which are fitted with GPS collars, are able to find the suspects faster and hold them until the helicopters and law enforcement teams arrive to make arrests.
That’s a “game-changer” for Johan van Straaten, the programme’s dog master.
“To get to know new trainers like Joe and new methods of training our dogs has been awesome. The big thing is the tracking part.
“These dogs should apprehend the poachers at the end of the track, which will give us the chance to land with a chopper and then the rangers will be able to apprehend the poachers.”
Theresa Sowry, the college’s chief executive, said her husband, SANPark’s section ranger Richard Sowry, had first met Braman in January last year in the US and had been intrigued that the Texan’s dogs could be deployed to help the Kruger Park’s rangers.
Once settled and accustomed to their new handlers, the dogs will be deployed in counter-poaching operations in the Kruger area.
“When they will go to the Kruger depends on how much time it takes for these dogs to get used to our environment and that will be Joe’s call,” Sowry said.
As the demand for well-trained dogs and handlers grows, there is potential for the college as an Southern African Development Community training institute to play a major role in replicating the K9 unit’s early successes in protected areas throughout Africa.
“The whole point of the college is for us to test new approaches and once they’re tested they can be rolled out to other conservation areas,” she said.
The Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance and its donors have provided valuable support for the transport and expenses of this valuable pack of hounds from the US.
Global Paws assisted with the applications for the dogs’ import permit authorisations and customs pre-clearance. It also paid for the dogs’ handling fees, while SAA flew the dogs to South Africa this week.
“Adding tracker dogs to the field ranger teams has really changed the game, but as their successes increase, so to do the risks they face,” said Sowry.
“This is why the college needs ongoing support, most immediately for security upgrades for these valuable, hard-working dogs.
“They’re real conservation heroes. We can’t wait to see what these new additions from the US bring to the team.”