Man’s Best Friend is Helping Us Save Endangered African Wildlife

The statistics are sobering. An elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks. The death toll for rhinos keeps setting grave new records as poachers hunt them for their horns. We might lose these iconic animals in the next couple of decades because of a billion dollar wildlife trafficking industry made up of a web of hardcore criminals, including terrorist organizations.

In order to save these endangered animals, we’ve had to call in reinforcements from the animal kingdom: tracking dogs.

Conservation’s Newest Rock Stars

As reported in National Geographic, tracking dogs are helping us catch poachers in East Africa. The director of Big Life Tanzania, Damien Bell, tells National Geographic that tracking dogs are great additions in the fight against illegal wildlife poaching foremost “because they don’t have any political agenda—they can’t be compromised.” Perhaps more importantly, dogs can’t be corrupted the way humans can. Big Life Foundation is a wildlife conservation organization that works with local communities and conservation agencies to protect wildlife, and part of supporting that mission is the creation of anti-poaching teams that include tracking dogs.

Another asset that tracking dogs have is no different from our ordinary pet dogs: the primordial drive to please their guardians. (Well, that’s not true for my dog, but it is for most dogs, right?) Bell recounts how the dogs can stay hot on a poacher’s trail after hours, sometimes over eight hours. They will also track in spite of “extreme conditions—heat, rain, wetlands, mountains.” There’s no lazy dog days for these working dogs, and they get results.

The dogs have been dubbed “conservation rock stars,” and they’re in high demand. East African national parks, wildlife agencies, the local police and militaries have asked for the dogs help.

It’s All About the Nose

Dogs of all kinds of breeds are creating a ripple in African wildlife conservation. German shepherds were picked over bloodhounds to protect elephants in East Africa because they have better stamina and they can adapt better to the heat. Don’t worry, though; the Democratic Republic of the Congo is making good use of bloodhounds to protect the last remaining group of mountain gorillas. South Africa is employing Weimaraner and Malinois dogs to find hurt animals and track poachers.

No matter the breed, good tracking dogs share a common trait: a keen sense of smell. Those cold, wet and cute noses are capable of amazing feats that can leave the best military intelligence dumbfounded. PBS NOVA explains how a dog’s sense of smell is “10,000 to 100,000 times as acute” as our own. They smell things in parts per trillion. A dog’s nose is powerful enough to “detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.” In the case of wildlife conservation, tracking dogs usually catch a whiff of the poacher’s footprint and/or the poacher’s belongings from setting up camp.

Role Reversal: The Hunters Become the Hunted

Earlier this year, the Big Life Foundation’s anti-poaching efforts paid off thanks to two German shepherds named Rocky and Rosdas. Instead of arriving to the scene of a dead elephant without tusks, feeling helpless, and filing paperwork while the criminals move on to their next victim, Rocky and Rosdas helped the team capture two suspects responsible for the senseless murder. Rocky started the chase, and Rosdas — Rocky’s appreciate — took over when he needed to. Over the span of hours and across African foothills and scrublands, the duo followed the scent to a village where a local man admitted that two men had asked him if they could charge their phones in the middle of the night. The suspects were apprehended shortly after, and now it’s time for the justice system to do its job.

Source: Big Life Foundation Facebook Page

Source: Big Life Foundation Facebook Page

One thing’s for sure: dogs like Rocky and Rosdas know how to do their job. The introduction of the tracking dogs is already deterring some poachers. Sometimes the poachers won’t even cut off the tusks of a murdered elephant because they know that the dogs are close behind. Hopefully, more poachers will start thinking twice about indiscriminately killing every elephant they see. In the meantime, I don’t mind if tracking dogs keep hunting down these poachers who commit crimes against some of the most majestic animals on earth.

Photo Credit: Peter Allen

87 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

SEND
Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

You go, dog! Dogs' abilities are amazing. I am surprised it took so long for them to start using them (if this is a first type of report).But what really hurt was the statement that the poachers did not take the tusk after killing the elephant. That means the elephant died for no reason. At least if they took the tusks there may have been an excuse for the killing. I know, odd statement. Horrible.

SEND
Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND
Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik2 years ago

Thank You for sharing:)

SEND
Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

As far as I'm concerned, I'd like to see the poachers treated exactly as they've treated the animals they poach. Seems only fair. And anything that will help catch and prosecute them is a bonus!

SEND
Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Thanks

SEND
Ann W.
Ann W2 years ago

I am with you here, Linda M. Much to my embarrassment, our bimbo "The Body" Elle MacPherson expounded the benefits of rhino horn by saying "it works for me". I offered to send my finger/toe nail clippings in lieu of - but she never took me up on it.

SEND
Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

Error - 1004 rhinos

SEND
Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

Last night on the CBS news there was a story about 1400 rhinos killed last year & how few are left. They are prehistoric & we are driving them to extinction. Why? Aphrodisiacs for the Chinese. How many Chinese are there, a billion? They are in no danger of extinction. Perhaps we should start hunting them, at least those who promote this massacre. I'll take a rhino any day over a million stupid Chinese that believe they need rhino horn for sexual stimulation. Horn is basically the same as fingernails! Start hanging the poachers in the public squares & leave them there to rot like they do the rhinos, for all to see. Do the same with dealers in horn. We're talking extinction here. Sadly, humans are far from extinct. This really pi$$es me off!

SEND
Ruhee B.
Ruhee B2 years ago

Like a couple of other Care 2 members, I am concerned for the dogs safety. Unfortunately we can't arm the dogs! Hope these hero dogs will "poach" the poachers before the poachers poach the elephants or even them!!

SEND