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Image courtesy SLCS

The South Luangwa Canine Unit trains dogs to help detect poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Pooches Vs. Poachers: Detection Dogs Sniff Out Wildlife Contraband

12/15/2014

Pooches Vs. Poachers: Detection Dogs Sniff Out Wildlife Contraband

12/15/2014

Image courtesy SLCS

The South Luangwa Canine Unit trains dogs to help detect poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Zambia’s Luangwa Valley is an example of Africa’s rich biodiversity, and includes the migration range of the country’s largest elephant and lion populations, and the second largest African wild dog and endemic Thornicroft giraffe populations.

Unfortunately, this also means that the Luangwa Valley is especially attractive to poachers. While trophy hunting in Zambia remains a hotly debated topic, the Zambia Wildlife Authority is taking steps towards eliminating the poaching that has impacted local animal populations. 

The South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) is a community nonprofit organization committed working to conserve local wildlife and natural resources in Luangwa. Guided by CEO Rachel McRobb, the organization operates closely in concert with the Zambian Wildlife Authority and provides technical and financial support for coordinated efforts to manage and protect wildlife species living in the Luangwa region.

An antipoaching initiative supported primarily by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and in partnership with other NGOs is taking an aggressive approach to addressing the specific issues in the South Luangwa valley. The project includes innovative ways of monitoring South Luangwa ecosystems, rescuing and rehabilitating snared animals, and mitigating human wildlife conflict.

One unique program funded by this initiative is the South Luangwa Canine Unit. South Luangwa scouts are being trained by Working Dogs For Conservation (WD4C) to implement a dog detection program; helping to discover contraband and illegal fishing operations. (See a slideshow of the project) A number of road blocks, and village sweeps have been conducted with scouts and their canine support teams, rooting out illegal guns and ammo, snares, illegal fishing tools, and even ivory. The canine program will help ZAWA arrest current poachers and traffickers and deter future ones. One key focus of the program is proper training of the scouts in handling the dogs during roadblock and village searches, as well as maintaining the welfare and security of the dogs, and instilling this importance in their new handlers. WD4C trainers Megan Parker and Mackenzie Homan will provide ongoing support and handler training.

The funding supports an increase in routine and emergency antipoaching and snaring patrols and fully equip and deploy additional scouts, along with refresher training courses. In the sky, it institutes routine and emergency aerial surveillance, including a dedicated fixed winged aircraft and pilot. Using conservation technology, it collects data on all large carnivores to monitor population change and threats with camera traps.

Containing poaching in South Luangwa is immensely challenging, however, the improved and proactive response from long field patrols, night operations, road blocks, and canine unit investigations has allowed for some great returns. For example, one notorious elephant poacher the SLCS has been after has finally been apprehended. Also, over 1000 snares have be detected and removed since PGAFF became involved in March (2014).

The SLCS continues to look toward the future for the South Luangwa valley. The South Luangwa anti-poaching forces, including its new Canine Unit, working hand in hand with ZAWA and the communities , continues to more effectively enforce Zambia’s wildlife laws and protect South Luangwa’s wildlife. 

See a slideshow of the project.