The newly formed unit has already located a number of carcasses of critically endangered white-backed vultures.
Vultures are regularly used for illegal use in the traditional medicine market, with population numbers plummeting in recent years. The carcasses were located near Hluhluwe, an area at the centre of the wildlife conservation efforts in the province.
In just three weeks, the Project Rhino K9 Unit has been present at SAPS road blocks, reserve vehicles checks and night patrols.
The province, to date has lost over 200 rhinos this year, compared with 162 rhinos in 2016. With poaching methods constantly evolving, counter-poaching interventions need to adapt.
“Dogs have proved to be an essential tool to fight wildlife crime by tracking down poachers, detecting wildlife products and recovering illegal weapons and ammunition. Project Rhino has been working toward implementing a dog unit that will service the needs of reserves, functioning effectively within Zululand. We hope to grow the team, using trained and certified tracking dogs to assist in tracking and locating suspects as well as gathering important intelligence,” says Chris Galliers, the Project Rhino Co-ordinator.
The Project Rhino K9 Unit aims to assist Zululand member rhino reserves, which include private, state and community-owned reserves, with an additional law enforcement tool.
“In my experience, dogs are very useful, especially in areas where people cannot see tracks from poachers. Dogs at the gates are also very helpful for detecting ammunition and rhino horn,” said Musa Mbatha, Assistant Reserve Manager at Phinda Private Game Reserve.
Another canine unit, under the Project Rhino K9 Unit in partnership with Dunadventures Africa and WESSA Lowveld, operates exclusively in Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Park. This unit, which consists of five dogs each performing a specific function, has become a success in the past year.