Poaching in our national parks remains a major conservation challenge in South Africa. The K9 Anti-Poaching Unit is considered a game changer for South African National Parks. The dogs are instrumental in 95% of all the arrests.
Since its inception in 2012, the K9 Anti-Poaching Unit in the Kruger National Park has grown from 3 to 38 dogs in the Kruger National Park. Following this success, the project was extended to 7 other national parks with a total of 55 dogs now working across the country, playing an important role in both counter-poaching and, in certain parks visitor safety.
Well-trained dogs such as the Bloodhound, Belgian Shepherd, or Malinois, breeds are perfectly suited to track poachers in the field and detect firearms, ammunition and wildlife products that enter and exit through park gates. These remarkable dogs can follow an hours-old scent over impressive distances. Project Watchdog has achieved enormous successes. The dogs not only provide the rangers with a loyal friend and companion, but with the benefits of their incredible scenting ability they provide protection for the rangers. Wherever they operate, the poaching figures drop and the arrest rate increases.
'Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), situated in KwaZulu-Natal, is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of rhino’ as it was this area where the southern white rhino was saved from the brink of extinction, over half a century ago. Now, under threat from poaching, the park must continuously adopt methods to protect the species and ensure this crucial population is conserved into the future. The Park is home to the largest population of Rhino outside of the Kruger National Park and is managed by the Provincial Conservation Authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The Hluhluwe iMfolozi K9 Unit was revamped in 2020, to form part of the new law enforcement systems put in place to combat the huge upsurge in Rhino poaching which hit the province in 2012. At present we have two handlers and two Doberman/Bloodhounds breeds called Ghost and Gheko who are classified as cold scent dogs with the ability to follow scents that are up to 8 hours old. They are used in day to day reactions to follow rhino poaching suspects who have entered the Park. The Unit has had numerous successes over the years and the deterrent factor of having such a unit on site can never be underestimated. During the next year we plan on expanding the unit to include Detection Dogs at Park entrances to search for contraband such as wildlife products and firearms.'
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo) continues to partner with a number of organizations in its fight against rhino poaching. The partners who have been critical in the establishment and funding of the K9 Unit are Wildlife ACT, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Save the Rhino International, Wild Tomorrow Fund and Shannon Elizabeth Foundation. Some donations were also received from Hillcrest Primary School and Chase Valley Vet Rooms.