SOME LESSONS LEARNT – from a K9 Unit Student

By Bruce Missing

I have been actively involved in conservation, specifically in counter-poaching in the Greater Kruger area for the last six years. Throughout my time, I have seen a variety of different strategies and tools used to combat poaching, all with varying degrees of success. However, one tool, which has been consistent since the days of Stevenson-Hamilton (The first warden of the now Kruger National Park), is the canine. Granted their application has evolved but we still have no better means of detecting, trailing, or apprehending poachers than with the use of dogs.

In addition, no other K9 unit, in the history of the Kruger National Park, has had as high a success rate as that of the College’s. Naturally, I was chomping at the bit when I was fortunate enough to be given a chance to train with them for a month. Immediately I discovered this was not the conventional ‘dog handler’ course – a handler can in fact be a tracker canines’ biggest limitation hence the introduction of free tracking or running hounds. 

What was of real value was the interpreting and understanding the dog’s behaviour on tracks. I could not have asked for better tutors (interpreters if you will) than Simon Mnisi, Tristan Patrick and Johan van Straaten. They not only taught me but also inspired me. Moreover, I look forward to now carrying that spark over to our K9 unit at Mala Mala.

Working as a conservationist for any period of time and dealing with the large scope of challenges we face on a daily basis, can make one despondent.  But, if the SAWC training programmes and their students are anything to go by, our natural resources will be in great hands.