Canines For Africa

April 27, 2020
Categories: Member Testimonials

A German Shepherd stands alert at the sound of gunshots. With the ranger’s go ahead, the dog is released from his leash and races across the grassy field of the game reserve, hot on the trail of an animal poacher.

The dog, wearing protective body armor and a tracking collar, takes the poacher down and holds him on the ground until rangers arrive with handcuffs.

The German Shepherd is part of a nonprofit organization called Canines for Africa, created by Vianna von Weyhausen in 2016 to help stop the annihilation of vulnerable animals by poachers.

“I am originally from Zimbabwe, so Africa and animals are in my blood and I have been involved in conservation in one form or another my whole life,” said von Weyhausen, a Global Rescue member. “About five years ago, I heard about the use of dogs in wildlife protection and anti-poaching work. At the time few people were using K9 units and I thought it made sense to use an animal to help save wildlife.”

The Poaching Problem

One wildlife ranger is killed every three days. Three rhinos are killed every day. Four elephants are killed every hour. One pangolin is taken from the wild by poachers every five minutes, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Although there is more awareness of illegal poaching today, Africa’s endangered species and other wildlife are still being exterminated at a catastrophic rate.

“Everyone is aware of the crisis with rhinos and I am glad to see increased awareness about the plight of pangolins — reclusive, cute, armadillo-like insectivores that are slaughtered for their scales for use in traditional Chinese medicine,” von Weyhausen said. “They are being killed at a rate of more than 100,000 each year, which is sure to lead to extinction unless the poaching is stopped.”

Poaching is big business. Tusks made of ivory are sold at a high profit to make ornaments and jewelry. Rhino horn, sold for $15,000 to $30,000 a pound and pangolin scales, at $270 per pound, are used in medicines in Asia, “despite research showing they have no curative properties,” says von Weyhausen.

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, illegal wildlife trafficking throughout the world brings in approximately $20 billion per year, “putting it in the same league as drugs, arms and human trafficking,” said von Weyhausen. “Organized crime syndicates, even terrorist groups, are now the main perpetrators.”

Because elephants are becoming so scarce in some countries, poachers are turning to killing hippos for their tusk-like canines and incisors. Elks, with two incisors made of ivory, are also at risk.

“Poaching activity varies greatly between African countries. Where there is foresight and political will to stem the massacres, the success rate can be high,” von Weyhausen said. “But where corruption rules, it can be disheartening for anti-poaching organizations trying to save the fauna, flora and ecosystems.”

Dogs to the Rescue

The mission at Canines for Africa is twofold: train specialized dogs and their ranger-handlers and bring educational programs about conservation to schools.

Von Weyhausen ground operations are handled by Conraad de Rosner, a South African who has been running anti-poaching units with canines for more than 26 years.

“He is totally dedicated to both dogs and to saving wildlife,” she said.

Dogs are trackers by nature and breeds are chosen for their skills. Shepherds are trained to track human, firearm and ammunition scent and to disable armed poachers, while Weimaraners are trained to search for live or dead animals (an elephant injured by a poacher or an orphaned baby rhino) or contraband (elephant tusks, rhino horn or pangolin scales). Canines for Africa also uses other breeds, like hounds (cold scent trackers), as the situations warrant.

The training center in South Africa typically houses 20 dogs in various stages of training. The ranger is educated through a 60-day residential course. The dog and the ranger complete instruction together and when both are ready, the team is transported to their new home. Canines for Africa schedules two week-long visits to assess and fine tune the unit’s performance.

“The canines work effectively at night, when most poachers are active,” von Weyhausen said. “They can track for many hours, abseil from a helicopter, lay in wait for a criminal, protect the handler and apprehend a suspect.”

The dogs are extraordinary, tracking down poachers before they commit a crime. Most South African National Parks now use canine units.

Canines for Africa has supplied the dogs and the training for 10 operational units in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mali and India.

This new concept is proving extremely powerful in the capture of poachers. According to an official statement issued by South African National Parks, the effort is indeed making a difference: “Over the past 10 months the canine units have successfully tracked and taken down 90% of the poachers arrested in the Kruger National Park.”

“We at Canines for Africa are having similar results,” von Weyhausen said. “We are also finding that poaching syndicates often move out of a reserve as soon as we deploy K9 units, so we act as a deterrent as well as a proactive and reactive force.”

How Global Rescue Helps

Von Weyhausen joined Global Rescue the same year she founded Canines for Africa.

She learned about Global Rescue while attending a tradeshow/the Dallas Safari Club Convention. Because she travels between the organization’s London base, the training center in South Africa, operational units in six countries on two continents and visits sponsors in the United States and around the world, it made good business — and personal sense — to become a member.

“Given I spend so much time in remote areas of far flung countries (many without advanced medical facilities) running an organization that is the target of poaching syndicates, Global Rescue made so much sense,” she said. “Your personnel were well informed and friendly and the service so inclusive, I joined instantly.”

Creating and deploying anti-poaching wildlife conservation units is dangerous work, but von Weyhausen is more confident with a Global Rescue membership.

“It really does give me great peace of mind, especially when I am in the bush visiting my frontline anti-poaching units.” she said. “My base staff has Global Rescue’s details and I know they will contact Global Rescue the moment they hear there is a critical situation.”

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