2017 began with excitement, as the Lower Zambezi Tracking and Detection Dog Unit received their much awaited new and modified Toyota Land Cruiser. This vehicle will play an incredibly vital role, enabling this team to operate independently as a unit whose aim is to combat poaching and trafficking in and around the Lower Zambezi National Park. The new Land Cruiser 4 x 4 was supplied as part of a sub grant of $150,000 awarded to Conservation Lower Zambezi and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in order to set up the new Tracking and Dog Detection Unit in 2016. The sub grant was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Community Forests Program (CFP), being implemented by BCP.
The stars of this new unit, German Shepard’s named Lego and Bar, and their four handlers underwent three months of intensive training before graduating onto anti-poaching operations duties in August 2016. While waiting for the new Land Cruiser to be delivered, the Community Forests Program volunteered one of their own vehicles as a loan so that the Tracking and Detection Dog Unit would have no delays in becoming operational. This highly specialized unit brings real additional value to disrupting wildlife crime chains in this important ecosystem.
This latest addition to the team, a purposely modified new Toyota Land Cruiser, is able to carry two batteries for extra power, a high lift jack, towing winch, external lighting and removable chairs so the dog kennels are not disturbed when people are getting into the vehicle. These modifications to the Land Cruiser will help the team cover difficult terrain and improve accessibility and effectiveness in detecting and tracking poachers.
During the vehicle handover ceremony on January 12th, the Unit put on a demonstration of the dog’s tracking and detection skills. Lego detected an AK-47 firearm that was hidden in a vehicle, and Bar detected a piece of ivory that was hidden around the BCP Office grounds (note: the ivory was loaned by Department of National Parks and Wildlife for the purposes of the demonstration). With a sense of smell significantly much greater than humans, Lego and Bar have been trained and “imprinted” on five sensors (smells), including: ivory, pangolin scales, bush meat, firearms and ammunition.
“When tracking, the dogs do not know what they are going to find, they go for anything that they have been trained to detect. When they find an item they indicate by sitting and looking where the item is until we see what it is” explained the Head of the Dog Detection Unit.
The event was closed with a speech delivered by the USAID Zambia Economic Development Office Director, Mr. Jeremy Boley “Our coming together today represents the ongoing partnership between the American People, the Zambia Government, implementing partners and local leadership to protect one of Zambia’s most valuable natural resources, its wildlife. This new vehicle being provided to the Conservation Lower Zambezi Detection and Tracking Unit will help in the fight against wildlife poaching and the procurement and sale of illegal game or bush meat.”
Since beginning last year, the Dog Detection Unit has already achieved amazing success. At a recent checkpoint, the unit uncovered an AK-47 firearm, bush meat, and illegal copper.
Building on the early successes of the Dog Detection Unit, this new and modified Toyota Land Cruiser will help Conservation Lower Zambezi and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to expand the scope and efficiency of their operations to combat wildlife crime and stop poaching.
This Press Release is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of BCP and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
Photo Credits: BCP and CLZ