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Why dogs are key in protecting rhinos from poachers
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Poaching is one of the biggest risks to South Africa’s wildlife. In most of the country’s national parks, this illegal hunting of animals continues to put some of the nation’s most treasured species, especially elephant and rhino, in danger of becoming extinct. The Department of Environmental Affairs estimates that since 2011, approximately 7 900 rhinos have been killed by poachers in protected areas and parks across the country. Many of these deaths have taken place in the Kruger National Park (the Kruger).
The figure could have been far worse, if not for the efforts of a small group of dedicated rangers and their team of canine colleagues. Thanks to the Kruger’s K9 Rhino Anti-Poaching Dog Unit, with the support of a number of donors and sponsors, the number of rhinos killed in South Africa’s best-known nature reserve is steadily coming down.
Since 2011, the K9 Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit has been a key part of the ongoing efforts to stop poaching by tracking and arresting poachers, performing security checks on vehicles in the park, and finding and confiscating ivory and rhino horns.
The success that the K9 team is achieving in reducing the number of rhino poaching incidents in the park is mainly attributable to the team’s highly trained dogs. They have been directly responsible for around 90% of the arrests.
While human trackers can be thrown off the trail of a poacher by long grass or other natural elements, the dogs can easily keep on following a scent in any terrain. They can move through long grass and thick bush very quickly, which makes it very difficult for a poacher to get away from them once they start tracking them.
The team uses different breeds of dogs depending on the tasks required. Some are trained to spend days out in the field with their handlers tracking poachers, while others are trained to sniff out ammunition, ivory and rhino horn during security checks.
Irrespective of the specific work each dog does, to help them perform at their peak, the most important thing is to make sure that they are healthy. As such, effective control of parasites is a vital part of their ongoing health programme. We can’t stop the dogs from getting exposed to ticks and fleas while out in the bush, so we have to find other ways of protecting them from the dangers these parasites bring
Effective parasite protection is vital because a bite from a tick could cause tick bite fever, which is potentially fatal for dogs. Fleas also present many possible problems, like scratch allergies and secondary bacterial skin infections.
With Elanco donating Seresto collars to the dogs of the K9 Unit, the animals (and their handlers) don’t have to worry about most vector-borne illnesses affecting their health or performance. This effective parasite control lasts for up to eight months, which makes a Seresto collar an ideal way of controlling parasites on the hard-working canines.
The humans and dogs on the K9 Anti-poaching Team enjoy a really special bond, where the handlers want only the best for their dogs and the dogs love nothing more than knowing that their handlers are happy with them. By effectively controlling ticks and fleas, we make sure that we have healthy animals and happy handlers. A real win-win!