Endangered Wildlife Trust


Posted 8 February 2012

The olfaction capabilities of dogs (Canis familiaris) have been harnessed by humans for millennia. They have been used to detect scent complexes as diverse as cadavers, narcotics, fire accelerants, landmines and even termites. Search and rescue dogs use this powerful sense of smell to find people – for example, those who have been buried in avalanches and earthquakes. In addition, dogs (particularly the aggressive breeds) are used extensively for attack and protection. They have been used to protect people, livestock, property and a number of other things. Dog breeds which make good protection dogs are generally those with a high level of innate aggression, a high working drive and intelligence

It is these olfactory and protection capabilities of dogs that make them an effective anti-poaching tool. These dogs are deployed in conservation areas where they are trained to track people, as well as to find arms and ammunition. This is very important, as there is evidence that the poachers often stash weapons in the bush to reduce the risk of their being caught in the possession of weapons. The dogs are also used to detect spent bullets at a poaching scene, which can be an arduous and difficult task - especially in thick bush - for the rangers, who only have their sense of vision to rely on.

The dogs operate with a handler, who is usually a field ranger. The dogs can cover large distances, and a major advantage is that they can track at night, as they only need their scenting capabilities. This is particularly relevant, as a number of the poaching incidents occur at night – particularly when there is a full moon. The dogs are also trained to attack on command, should they encounter a poacher. The mere presence of the dogs is a deterrent – much as dogs in a suburban environment might frighten off criminals.

The breed of choice would be a Belgian Malinois which is a highly intelligent, tough breed that can cope with heat, and has good scenting ability as well as the aggression for attack work, should it be required. They are good tracking dogs as well as having the air scenting attributes of a search and rescue dog. Several Malinois have already been deployed in conservation areas. Bloodhounds are being used in Kenya and the DRC as tracking dogs, but the disadvantage of this breed is that they are not good for air scenting, and being big, heavy dogs, they do not tolerate heat well.

Although not the solution for all situations, anti-poaching dogs are a very useful tool in the arsenal to address the scourge of rhino poaching.