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The Southern African Wildlife College pack dogs, our unsung heroes of conservation


A powerful new weapon to our counter-poaching arsenal are the new formidable pack dogs, trained and housed at the Southern African Wildlife College K9 unit. These dogs are set to be the new game changer in the war against poaching and have already had a considerable impact in this role.

Johan van Straaten, dog-master and trainer has done incredible work with these dogs who are already proving to be invaluable in tracking-down poachers with a number of successful poacher arrests already this year.

The dogs used are a cross between English foxhounds and American blue-tick coonhounds, due to their remarkable tracking abilities as well as being able to cover large distances at high speed without a handler. The dogs are trained to track in a pack, unlike some breeds that are more suited to solitary tracking with a single handler.

The dogs are trained from an early age how to track people, breaking the normal tracking instinct of tracking and hunting animals.

The SAWC has through various trials and training methods developed a unique system of monitoring the pack-dogs from the air whilst tracking poachers. The Savannah aircraft provides the perfect monitoring platform, being able to fly safely at low airspeeds, being highly manoeuvrable as well as providing excellent all-round visibility. With the Savannah we are able to stay above the dogs and monitor their progress from the air, communicating with ground units on the position and progress of the dogs.

We have had a number of successful missions using both the Savannah and a helicopter in pack-dog deployment operations. With the helicopter being able to drop dogs off in remote locations with fresh tracks on the ground as well as being able to change dogs when they need to rest, makes this a formidable combination in new counter-poaching methods.

For these dogs, their reward is the work itself, clearly they love what they do and it’s evident when we watch them operate from the air.

Watch this space for future developments with the SAWC K9 unit.