K9 Unit Update – December 2022

By Johan Van Straaten – Dog Master 

The last quarter of the year has included a few highlights for the team but the most exciting news is that we can officially announce that the Skukuza satellite unit has finally opened, with more than half of our operational dogs being moved there. This will be a game changer for our operational deployment success, as we are situated 5 minutes from the Kruger’s helipad rather than at the SAWC where we had to wait 30 minutes before we could be fetched. Training will also take place in Skukuza with the helicopter once a week, allowing us to train like we operate which is another massive advantage. 

From 5-9 November the College was visited by Pack Leader to shoot a commercial for their pet products and two media representatives. For five days the K9 unit was shadowed to capture the essence of what the team does. It was a great success, and the dogs played their part well. Journalist Don Pinnock shared his thoughts on his experience and time with the unit in his article posted in the Daily Maverick.  

Our overall aim remains to expand our footprint across the African continent as a leading training institution and dog breeder in the K9 unit field. The more we can expand, the more chance we have to achieve our objectives and bring dogs and their handlers closer to our rangers who are the boots on the ground. 

We have completed 1386 hours of training this year from January to November with 132 hours in October and 138 in November.  

In the last issue we noted one highlight being the training of a Belgian Malinois, Hassi from Swaziland. We are pleased to report that Hassi is now fully trained in bitework, apprehension and tracking and has been sent home to Swaziland to become operational. It was amazing to see a dog, who arrived here six months ago knowing absolutely nothing about this work, to be fully trained and ready to enter the field. 

The two puppies, Willow and Pepper, are now a few months older and fitting in nicely with the pack. As they approach the one-year mark, we have begun to involve them more in the pack and began their off-leash training this quarter. We plan to make them fully operational in 2023.  

We also had two students join us for a month of dog handling training. Both students did exceptionally well, and both achieved their certificates in advanced dog handling. This is an exciting new avenue for the unit and we look forward to training more students in 2023. 

Garmin came to check our equipment to see if we needed anything replaced and/or fixed. It went very well and they have agreed to help us to replace the collars with the newest line of collars that they have. These collars will have even better signal and updates will go even faster in the field. Rogz also supported us with collars, leads and other equipment for the dogs, which we are also testing. 

We wish all our donors and supporters namely, Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance, International Rhino Foundation, Tusk Trust, Pack Leader Pet Products – Orijen, Friends of African Wildlife, Conserv Earth, Seaboard and Hudson Park Primary, a wonderful festive season and thank you once again for your unwavering dedication to our unit – we appreciate each and every one of you.  

Our sincere thanks is also extended to Virtual Market Place MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet for funding capacity development across all four tiers in support of our counter poaching operations. This includes our field ranger training unit, our Aerial support unit, the K9 Unit and our Community engagement unit.