Animals

Not just man’s best friend! Dogs trained to protect wildlife have saved 45 rhinos from poachers in South Africa

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A pack of dogs have been trained to protect South Africa’s wildlife – and have already saved 45 rhinos from being poached.

Many breeds of dog from beagles to bloodhounds have been used to protect the endangered species from poachers.

The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before beginning to work at 18 months old.

A group of intelligent dogs have been given training to protect South Africa’s endangered wildlife – and have already saved 45 rhinos from being poached The dogs are trained to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience. The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before working at 18 months-old

Sean Viljoen, 29, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has shared photographs of the dogs in action at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger National Park.A group of intelligent dogs have been given training to protect South Africa's endangered wildlife - and have already saved 45 rhinos from being poached

The dogs are trained to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience. The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before working at 18 months-oldThere is no dog too big or small to stop poaching as Texan Black-and-Tan Coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, Foxhounds and Blue Ticks are all on the team

The dogs are are trained to 'benefit required counter poaching initiatives'

The dogs include a Texan Black-and-Tan Coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, Foxhounds and Blue Ticks are trained to ‘benefit required counter poaching initiatives’ which includes free tracking, incursion, detection, patrol and apprehension dogs

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He is the owner of a production company called Conservation Film Company and aims to use tell the stories of those on the frontline of conservation, sharing their stories of hope.

Johan van Straaten, who is a K9 Master at the college, said: ‘The data we collect for this applied learning project aimed at informing best practice, shows we have prevented approximately 45 rhino being killed since the free tracking dogs became operational in February 2018.

‘In the areas where the Southern African Wildlife College patrol, the success rate of the dogs is around 68 per cent using both on and off leash free tracking dogs, compared to between three to five per cent with no canine capacity.

‘The game changer has been the free tracking dogs who are able to track at speeds much faster than a human can in terrain where the best human trackers would lose spoor. Johan van Straaten (pictured) is a K9 Master at the college and says the project is aimed at informing best practice. The free tracking dogs became operational in February 2018

 Johan van Straaten (pictured) is a K9 Master at the college and says the project is aimed at informing best practice. The free tracking dogs became operational in February 2018The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before starting working as an anti-poaching hound at 18 months old

The dogs begin training from birth and learn how to handle all the pressures of real operations before starting working as an anti-poaching hound at 18 months oldThe success rate of the dogs is said to be around 68 per cent when using both on and off leash free tracking dogs. Johan van Straaten (pictured) says hello to the animals as they sit in the back of the van

The success rate of the dogs is said to be around 68 per cent when using both on and off leash free tracking dogs. Johan van Straaten (pictured) says hello to the animals as they sit in the back of the vanSean Viljoen, 29, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has shared photographs of the dogs in action at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger National Park

Sean Viljoen, 29, based in Cape Town, South Africa, has shared photographs of the dogs in action at the Southern African Wildlife College in Greater Kruger National ParkPictured, dog handler Precious Malapane with a puppy in training to be an anti-poaching dog

Pictured, dog handler Precious Malapane with a puppy in training to be an anti-poaching dog

Pictured, dog handler Precious Malapane with a puppy in training to be an anti-poaching dog. All breeds of dogs from a beagle to bloodhound can be trained to stop poaching

‘As such, the project is helping ensure the survival of southern Africa’s rich biodiversity and its wildlife including its rhino which have been severely impacted by wildlife crime. South Africa holds nearly 80 per cent of the world’s rhino.

‘Over the past decade over 8,000 rhino have been lost to poaching making it the country hardest hit by this poaching onslaught.’

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The dogs which include a Texan Black-and-Tan Coonhounds, Belgian Malinois, Foxhounds and Blue Ticks are trained to ‘benefit required counter poaching initiatives’ which includes free tracking, incursion, detection, patrol and apprehension dogs.

Dog handlers Precious Malapane and Robynne Wasas are both part of the ‘K9 unit fast response’ team and help to train the anti-poaching dogs. Dog handlers Precious Malapane (right) and Robynne Wasas sit on top of the van the dogs are transported in, called the 'K9 Unit Fast Response' vehicle

Dog handlers Precious Malapane (right) and Robynne Wasas sit on top of the van the dogs are transported in, called the ‘K9 Unit Fast Response’ vehicleAt six months old their together is put together more formally. It is thought that they do have the necessary skill set to do the work at a younger age but are not mature enough to handle all the pressures of real operations

At six months old their together is put together more formally. It is thought that they do have the necessary skill set to do the work at a younger age but are not mature enough to handle all the pressures of real operationsCrime scene investigators examine a poached rhino carcass on September 14, 2014 in the Kruger National Park, South AfricaCrime scene investigators examine a poached rhino carcass on September 14, 2014 in the Kruger National Park, South Africa

Johan van Straaten added: ‘They begin training from birth and are socialised from a very young age

‘They learn how to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience.

‘At six months we put all that training together more formally – they do have the necessary skill set to do the work at a younger age but are not mature enough to handle all the pressures of real operations.

‘Depending on a number of factors dogs become operational at around 18 months old.’

On February 3, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries reported that a total of 594 rhinos were poached in the country throughout 2019, Save The Rhino reported. 

Poaching numbers peaked at 1,215 in 2014 but this is the fifth year in a row poaching rates have declined.

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