In its first month of operations, starting in November 2017, the Project Rhino K9 Unit reportedly located a number of carcasses of critically endangered white-backed vultures that were suspected to have been poisoned for illegal use in the traditional medicine market.
A statement by Project Rhino, which is an association of like-minded wildlife conservation organisations, said that in the brief period since the K9 Unit had been activated its specially trained dogs and their handlers had supported police roadblocks, checked vehicles entering and leaving game reserves, and been on night patrols.
“Dogs have proved to be an essential tool to fight wildlife crime by tracking down poachers, detecting wildlife products, and recovering illegal weapons and ammunition.
We hope to grow the team, using trained and certified tracking dogs to assist in tracking and locating suspects as well as gathering important intelligence,” said Chris Galliers, Project Rhino’s coordinator, in the statement.
Galliers added that KZN had lost over 200 rhino to poachers between 1 January and 8 December 2017, more than the 162 rhino that the province lost over the entire 2016 calendar year.
This confirmed that poachers were constantly adapting their methods and that counter-poaching efforts needed to be dynamic if the war on poaching was to make noticeable headway.
Musa Mbatha, assistant reserve manager at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in KZN, said that, in his experience “dogs are very useful, especially in areas where people cannot see tracks from poachers”.
“Project Rhino K9 Unit aims to provide a positive image for conservation law enforcement efforts in the region, and hopes its presence will assist greatly in deterring those involved in illegal wildlife activities,” the statement concluded.
For more information visit website – www.projectrhinokzn.org To view a short clip on the Project Rhino K9 Unit, visit YouTube and search for “Project Rhino K9 Unit”