The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) conservation canine project’s Annie has had a busy year, with seven arrests under her, well, collar this year, and three of them this week.
“These wildlife trust-owned dogs are trained to either track humans or detect wildlife contraband like rhino horn and ivory as well as ammunition,” the trust’s Dr Kelly Marnewick said.
Annie was trained at the Southern African Wildlife College.
“She has been trained to track and is used to follow up on poacher sightings, fence incursions and to follow poachers away from crime scenes,” Marnewick said.
Annie’s handler, Colin, works with her on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park in Limpopo.
Speaking to The Citizen, Colin said: “During the early hours of one morning, I received a call from one of our neighbouring reserves. One of their night observation posts thought they had seen a poacher walk past. I was asked to go and assist in the follow-up with Annie.
“The poachers had unfortunately walked in the same area as the field rangers, making it difficult for me to indicate to Annie which tracks I wanted her to follow. We therefore followed the tracks visually until we found where the poachers had split away into the bush,” he said.
With the poachers wearing socks over their shoes as an antitracking measure, this is where Annie’s tracking skills came into play, said Colin.
“For her, them wearing socks had no effect on her tracking ability.
“I put her on the tracks and she immediately started to pull on the trail. Over time, I have learnt to read Annie’s body language and I see she can read mine. It seems that we can both read when one of us are serious. In this case, I could see that her full focus was on the tracks. This was a good sign.”
The good signs continued until two alleged poachers were found hiding. They had a silenced rifle, ammunition, axe and other poaching equipment, and were arrested. A third suspect was arrested later that day.
Marnewick said: “We further commend all roleplayers who were involved in the collaboration that resulted in these arrests including the South African Police Service, antipoaching units, reserve owners and managers.
“We hope that appropriate sentences are handed down that make a real conservation difference.”
The EWT is supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service; the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust; Relate Bracelets; Royal Canin; and many individual donors.