Throughout Africa, illegal trans-national wildlife crime is on the rise. To counter this growing threat, conservation agencies are introducing detection dog units across African protected areas. This new ‘technology’ has shown effective results in deterring illegal wildlife crime.
Lower Zambezi National Park is one of Zambia’s most strategic protected areas. It forms part of a trans-frontier conservation area shared with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, containing one of Zambia’s largest elephant populations. The Lower Zambezi National Park, surrounding Game Management Areas and Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project’s Rufunsa Conservancy cover approximately 10,000 km2. Threats to this million hectare area are clear and stark. The proximity of Lower Zambezi to the capital city means that increasing population combined with illegal activity pressure like poaching, encroachment, and illegal charcoal making threaten both the habitat and wildlife populations. Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and BCP support regular foot patrols and aerial surveys, but this is a vast area, so the question is how to support foot patrols with more tools?
Until now, patrols have relied on the human nose, and physical searches with limited success. Highly trained detection dogs on the other hand have the relentlessly keen ability to track and follow scents that have long gone cold to humans. These sophisticated canines have the capacity to locate a small piece of ivory or game meat in a densely packed 40ft shipping container with a capacity of 67 cubic metres; making border crossings and routine road block checks far more efficient and leading to an increase in arrests, recoveries, deterrence and information related to wildlife crime and trafficking.
Realizing the importance of a Dog Detection Unit as a tool in combating wildlife crime and poaching in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem, BCP partnered with CLZ to support DNPW in establishing a new dog unit. The establishment and operational costs for the unit are provided through the USAID-funded Community Forests Program (CFP) implemented by BCP (BioCarbon Partners). This sub grant of US$150,000.00 includes a new modified Toyota Land Cruiser that will be used by the dog unit for special operations, making it an entirely independent unit that can randomly deploy across the highways and disrupt wildlife criminal chains. Funds from this same grant will pay the salaries of the four dog handlers for the first 2 years.
Lego and Bar are two detection and tracking dogs. These German Shepherds were born and bred in Holland – and arrived in the Lower Zambezi on April 24 along with specialist dog trainers Jay Crafter and Mike Hensman from Invictus K9. Nine potential handlers were assessed over a week for specific qualities – physical fitness, memory, integrity, teamwork, leadership, ability to communicate and function under pressure, and importantly empathy toward animals and their ability build a relationship with Lego and Bar. Two primary handlers were chosen, Sheleni Phiri (a CLZ Village Scout since 2013) and CLZ’s, Peter Tembo, who started with CLZ in 2011 as kitchen/camp assistant and has since risen to Operations Assistant. The secondary handlers are Christopher Sheleni and Adamson Phiri, both formally employed under CLZ’s Village Scout unit. The four on them will have completed an intense and challenging 3 month training period by the end of July 2016, the first step to becoming expert dog handlers.
In addition to Lego and Bar, a 13-week old puppy, named Fury and selected from one of the local villages has been undergoing training to become a tracking and detection dog. This relatively new and slightly experimental process, time will show if it’s possible to successfully train Fury to perform the same duties Lego and Bar will be fulfilling in the field. Dogs from local villages have a strong immunity against diseases and illness found in Zambia, and are better adapted toward coping with the heat in Zambia. A few weeks in and Fury is already picking up scents!
We are proud to be supporting DNPW and CLZ in the development of this important new tool to reduce wildlife crime in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem. We look forward to sharing more information about the progress of the Dog Detection Unit in future as the program develops.
This blog is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this blog are the sole responsibility of BCP and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.