Rwanda’s Akagera National Park has recently acquired seven Belgium Malinois and one Dutch Shepherd to help track and restrain poachers in an attempt to protect biodiversity.
A gruelling selection of dog handlers is underway and once the selection process is complete the successful candidates will undergo another four months of intensive training and bonding with their dog. The Rwanda National Police will be joining this program as they have provided four of their staff to train as handlers.
The chosen handlers must be able to interpret their dogs behaviour and each dog will have two handlers (a primary handler and a secondary handler) to ensure there is someone attending to the dog 24/7.
The eight dogs are residing in the newly built kennels at Akagera’s park headquarters. On completion of their training the dogs may also operate in the two other parks: Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest Park in Rwanda.
The dogs, named Reza, Gozer, Max, Duco, Barak, Bruno, Bronco and Tigo, are all three year old males. The dogs arrived with two professional trainers and a handler who will be instrumental in the training of new handlers over the course of the year. The programme is being funded by the Rwanda Development Board.
The dogs will predominately be used to track poachers and will be deployed in an areas where there is evidence of poaching or along the periphery of the park to monitor the fences. They are capable of restraining poachers until the rangers are able to arrest them but the focus is on tracking.
The program hopes to prevent illegal poaching activities, provide a quicker response to intel and help secure the 1,122km² park’s boundary. The dogs will be protecting the park’s small herd of elephants, Masai giraffe and grey crowned cranes to name a few.
Malinois were also able to sniff out bushmeat and an illegally trafficked African grey parrot in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, another park under African Parks management. The use of dog units in African reserves has been highly successful and breeds like Malinois, Anatolian Shepherds, Weimaraner and Bloodhounds have proven to be invaluable to conservation.
For more about dogs in conservation read Africa Geographic’s article, Conservation’s Best Friend.