Rhino Conservation Project

The use of dogs

We have facilitated the deployment of anti-poaching tracking dogs in reserves, as well as sniffer dogs at airports and parks. The airport dogs had success in finding rhino horn and ivory consignments when first deployed and their constant presence in the cargo section of ORTIA has disrupted this as a possible smuggling route. We have also facilitated the first sniffer dog at a reserve who not only detects ivory and rhino horn, but also arms and ammunition – he has been instrumental in both removing weapons from the system as well as detecting bullets (crucial forensic evidence) at crime scenes. We plan to expand both applications of dogs in the future

(Canis familiaris) have been used for a variety of purposes, including providing assistance in conservation activities. In the context of the rhino poaching crisis, dogs can be used as sniffer dogs, as tracker dogs and for searching.


Photos of the dogs currently in the field - click

Sniffer Dogs

An integral part of the poaching chain is the smuggling of wildlife contraband out of South Africa. Making it as difficult as possible to move illegal rhino horn and other wildlife contraband across borders increases the level of risk to those individuals involved in the smuggling chain, and thus helps to impede illegal trade. Based on arrests to date, the smuggler is usually more closely connected to the crime syndicates than the other earlier players in the chain, and thus detection and subsequent arrests at this level have more chance of gaining information on the international players.

One of the reasons criminals consider the illegal trade in wildlife as a low risk activity is that it is not afforded the same priority status given to contraband such as drugs and weapons. Consequently, the necessary resources to detect and prosecute wildlife criminals are under allocated. This is also true of sniffer dogs, which provide one of the most effective means of detecting wildlife products, due to their highly effective scenting ability, thought to be at least a thousand times better than that of humans.For these reasons, the EWT is supporting the law enforcement efforts at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) by deploying sniffer dogs trained to detect rhino horn, as well as ivory, in the cargo sections. By agreement with Lanseria International Airport, the dogs will also work in the passenger and cargo areas there. This project is a partnership with African Consultants for Transport Security (ACTS), a cargo clearing company and Bidvest Magnum. To date, we have obtained four dogs (Rico, Renaldo, Heddi and Condor), all of whom are undergoing constant training while already working in the cargo warehouses.

Anti-poaching Dogs

The ultimate aim of the Rhino Project is to “keep the horn on the rhino”, and thus a very important intervention point is at the poaching level. The EWT does not employ field rangers, nor does it have an enforcement mandate, but the EWT can play an effective role as an independent facilitator in the anti‐poaching initiatives within our scope. One of these initiatives is the deployment of anti‐poaching dogs, which are trained to track people, find arms and ammunition (which is particularly important in areas where the poachers have ongoing incursions, and stash their weapons to reduce the risk of being apprehended outside the park) and help with the detection of spent cartridges at crime scenes. For the rangers who only have their sense of vision to rely on, this can be an arduous and difficult task ‐ especially in thick bush. Dogs also have the advantage of being able to cover large distances and very importantly, they can work at night. In addition, should a poacher be encountered, the right breed of dog can assist the ranger in apprehending him.

The EWT, through funding from the International Rhino Foundation and in partnership with GreenDogs, will be trialling a dog in four conservation areas in Zimbabwe which have important black rhino populations, but which are under resourced and underfunded to tackle the poaching levels they are currently facing.The EWT is also developing a project to test whether dogs are able to detect snares in the bush. If they can, they will provide an invaluable tool to address the snaring problem, which results in the indiscriminate killing of numerous animals (including rhinos and other endangered species).

Orphan Detection Dogs

This is another project under development by the EWT. Losses of rhino calves orphaned due to poaching generally occurs when they are unable to be located before they themselves die or are predated. The use of foot patrols have found to be relatively ineffective, as have helicopters, which are also very expensive. This project aims to test whether dogs are able to detect and track rhino calves.