LOCKDOWN DOESN’T MEAN SLOW DOWN FOR THESE CONSERVATION CANINES

Shadi Henrico, Conservation Canine Project Coordinator, EWT Wildlife in Trade Programme
shadih@ewt.org.za
The lockdown has brought new challenges, but our Conservation Canines continue to work (and play) as hard as ever.

Tracking under the moon light

With the implementation of the nationwide lockdown, our tracking dogs’ efforts in reserves were increased due to the risk of increased criminal activities. In the Lowveld, EWT Conservation Canine Annie and her handler were part of an operation involving several crime prevention units. They tracked down and assisted with the capture of two suspected poachers. Annie and her handler also supported an operation in which eight suspects were caught in the possession of dried- and fresh bushmeat, knives, axes, and snares. She happily works with her handler in any conditions and adapts very quickly no matter day or night, sun, or rain.

Taking flight

Time is of the essence when tracking suspected poachers. EWT Conservation Canine Puk, based in the Lowveld, has increased his training on flying in helicopters with his handler. This is a quick way to get to work and start tracking, and reduces time available for suspects to escape. Puk is the second EWT Conservation Canine to be trained to ride in a helicopter. Once the rangers in the field discover any incursions, attempted poaching, or actual poaching in progress, they alert the canine team, which can get in the air within a very short time. Once they get closer, they can lower the handler and dog to the ground and this team can immediately track down the culprits!

Vehicle detection

It is of the utmost importance to search all vehicles entering and exiting reserves for wildlife contraband, ammunition and arms. These searches are conducted daily. In April alone, two of our EWT Conservation Canines, Spike and Fly, searched 221 vehicles at reserve entrances. Large areas and compounds are also covered by these teams. With the implementation of lockdown, certain unforeseen challenges risen. For example, Fly fell ill during this time. Thanks to excellent veterinarians, he was treated, and work resumed. Even in lockdown and with the heat of the Lowveld, we always prioritise our canines’ health and happiness!

Training during lockdown

We have two handlers, Shay Seebran and Innocent Buthelezi, staying at our Gauteng Conservation Campus in Midrand to care for our dogs and continue their training. When the lockdown was announced, we developed a plan of action that would allow for daily training to continue to take place, despite our senior handlers not being able to train in person. Our lockdown canine training involves using live video calls and regular check-ins. From her home in Pretoria, our Conservation Canine Coordinator, Shadi, video calls our handlers every day to see how both the dogs and the humans are doing in this challenging time and observe training in real time, providing instruction and feedback. Each day, these EWT Conservation Canines do open area searches, vehicle searches, building searches, and training on tyre rims. This keeps them up to date and makes sure that they do not lose their focus on the job. Just like us – they must keep their skills up to speed! Training records are completed as normal and our dogs are at their happiest when they can work.

Normal husbandry, like kennel cleaning and feeding, continues as normal. Welfare remains our top priority – we love our happy, healthy dogs – and they love long walks and getting groomed. We are very privileged to have our own dogs on our own property. Here they can still go for long walks, run free and swim. They probably have it better than most of us in lockdown!

Thanks to our funding partners, US Fish and Wildlife, Tourvest, Greeff Properties, the Tomlin family, Royal Canin, Boehringer-Ingelheim, MyPlanet Rhino Fund, Relate Trust, Platinum Life and GivenGain.

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