K9 Unit Established in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park to Combat Rhino Poaching

26 Feb 2021 |

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo) continues to partner with a number of organizations in its fight against Rhino poaching. In the latest collaboration, Ezemvelo’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) has partnered with several partners to establish a dog Unit known as the HiP K9 Unit that operates inside Ezemvelo’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

HiP K9 Unit Established to Combat Rhino Poaching
HiP K9 Unit on patrol. All photos by Casey Pratt / Love Africa Marketing

The partners who have been critical in the establishment and funding of the K9 Unit are Wildlife ACT, Hills 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.

The K9 Unit has adopted a proactive approach to apprehend poachers before they poach Rhinos. Some of the operational expectations regarding this Unit is that it is used to intercept poaching groups before they shoot Rhino. The Unit also needs to align well with other law enforcement agencies that are actively involved in combating Rhino poaching.

HiP K9 Unit Established to Combat Rhino Poaching

Expressing his excitement with this initiative, Dennis Kelly who is HiP’s Makhamisa Section Ranger and Project Leader of the K9 Unit, said,

“The use of canines is a very effective tool and has been used successfully in Kruger and in other parts of Africa.” He further highlighted that “Dogs are useful in many ways for law enforcement. Their noses, which have 50 times more scent receptors than humans, are their most valuable tool allowing them to follow and detect specific scents. This is of crucial importance in combating ever-determined and evolving poaching teams, which have become more sophisticated and can easily hide their tracks once they are inside Protected Areas.”

HiP K9 Unit Established to Combat Rhino Poaching

The K9 Unit currently consists of 2 handlers and 2 ‘cold scent’ dogs, Doberman/Bloodhound Crosses, which can follow older scents for up to 8 hours old. There are already further expansion plans in place to establish a detection unit for gates (to check vehicles and people for animal products and firearms) as well as to procure and train another 2 Hot Scent Belgian Malinois combinations, which can be put onto fresher tracks less than 4 hours old.

The K9 Unit has been in effect within HiP for over 6 months, with daily operations that have included training, simulations, reaction and follow-ups. They have carried out numerous interventions which have resulted in 3 notable successes with 3 arrests and a number of poaching groups interrupted before they have poached a Rhino.

The HiP K9 Unit is used to react to the messages received through the high-tech early detection system situated in HiP’s Operational Command Centre. This early detection system is part of the Smart Park initiative set up by Ezemvelo and various partners including the Peace Parks Foundation and Wildlife ACT. The Smart Park concept makes use of the latest technology, including camera traps and detection fences, placing Ezemvelo Anti-Poaching teams one step ahead of poaching suspects.

 “The key to success of any K9 Unit is consistency over the long term, with dedicated handlers and dogs learning and understanding the landscape and the specific working environment of the park. It is great to be able to support the Unit and ensure all the elements of the Park’s strategy are enabled.” commented Mark Gerrard, Managing Director of Wildlife ACT.

The Unit also works with the Project Rhino K9 Unit, a long-established team in the region with numerous successes. This relationship ensures that the dogs and handlers gain the best mentorship, training opportunities and experience to be most effective.

HiP K9 Unit Established to Combat Rhino Poaching

Project Rhino is a collective of 32 like-minded conservation organisations, working together to address wildlife crime in the region. Wildlife ACT believes that partnerships are crucial to effectively carry out the work required in this space. We believe partnerships bring stability and consistency of approach with the benefits of continuity.