“Off-line Dogs”… Just in case you’re wondering, this term has nothing to do with internet connectivity or Google Search. Instead, what may at first sound like cyber hounds are actually trained tracking dogs running off the leash, and these canines have become the new frontline heroes in the anti-poaching war.
A group of us have spent two days embedded at the #SAWildlifeCollege as part of the #ComanisFoundation #RhinoFacts Media Tour, hoping to make sense of what is an undeniably complex issue. And as per usual, one tends to walk away with more questions than answers.
One fact that stands out as clear as daylight is that current #conservation models have become obsolete in protecting our rhino. This was cruelly illustrated when word came that our demo with the #K9 Reaction Unit had been canceled: two poaching incidents required both packs of hounds – and Dog Master par excellence, Johan van Straaten – on the ground and in hot pursuit.
We managed to squeeze in a quick hour with the man and his hounds early the next morning, however. As part of the shooting exercise, I ran with two rangers for 20min into the savanna bush to leave a fresh trail, and then we hunkered down to wait with baited breath (and our cameras, of course).
It took less than 4min before the pack came loping through the tall grass, effortlessly bounding as they sped along the track like a pack of wolves running down a deer. To see this uncontained energy and flow was a thing of beauty, and you did not want to imagine the potential danger they would have to face while deployed against desperate poaching gangs.
‘Vasbyt’ is one of 3 dogs to have died in the line of duty here at @sawildlifecollege, and the only certainty going forward is that more of these heroic hounds will lose their lives while defending our natural heritage. Keep this in mind the next time you spout your personally packaged conservation sound-byte, and consider how much you understand of the real deal (and toll) on the ground.
Click here to view the pics