‘We’re dog facilitators’
November 24, 2022 4:06 AM   Subscribe

Meet the hounds trained to track down rhino poachers in Kruger Park. Rhino poachers entering Kruger National Park are increasingly being run down by packs of unleashed hunting hounds in full cry, followed by a chopper tracking their hi-tech GPS collars.

This marriage of an ancient hunting practice and modern technology is being honed, tested and mobilised at the K9 Unit based at the Southern African Wildlife College near Kruger’s Orpen Gate. It’s the first in Africa to run operational anti-poaching pack hounds in a game park and is clocking up successes.


“Leaving a dog bored is cruelty,” he adds, “they love to work. When they hear the chopper, they start going crazy with excitement.”


“Dogs are so intelligent. We’re not dog trainers, we’re dog facilitators to help them do what they do naturally. They figure out stuff themselves and we just build them up. Of course, handlers are also trained. They need to learn to see tracks, know their direction and age. And, of course, they have to love dogs.”

The older dogs who can no longer keep up are not discarded — they become the teachers of both puppies and handlers: they know what to do.

“This way,” says Van Straaten, “they have a purpose in life.”
posted by Zumbador (17 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I would be unconcerned if one of these good boys\girls took a chunk out of a rhino poacher.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:10 AM on November 24 [8 favorites]

Packs of human hunting dogs might make the Plains Game Hunting Safari Tours more exciting as well.
posted by srboisvert at 4:25 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

I would be unconcerned if one of these good boys\girls took a chunk out of a rhino poacher.

I don't disagree with you — at least, I used to feel similarly. But the situation is much more nuanced than I think most people realize. The Invisible Hand is a little-known podcast that does a good job of covering it.
posted by dobbs at 4:40 AM on November 24 [5 favorites]

They all have their chosen place in the chopper and they sleep during the flight. Very chilled. But when it banks and starts going down, they all wake up and start baying. You can’t hear yourself think.

Helicopter full of baying hounds has got to be the loudest thing ever.

What good dogs, thanks for posting Zumbador!
posted by the primroses were over at 4:54 AM on November 24 [3 favorites]

Since 2009 — just 13 years — rhino numbers in Kruger have dropped from 11,420 to 2,458 and this year they will continue to drop some more. During that time, the number of rhinos poached was double the existing population.

Ugh: the rest of the article is very encouraging, though.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:49 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Dogs love to have jobs. And I bet those are some very good dogs.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:09 AM on November 24 [3 favorites]

Heh, it's the same tracker my dog wears for woodland adventures. I hope he thinks he has an important hunting job, too.
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:01 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

I hear the bones of poachers, ground into a powder, is a powerful aphrodisiac.
posted by nickggully at 8:11 AM on November 24 [10 favorites]

I love this
posted by supermedusa at 8:12 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: they all wake up and start baying. You can’t hear yourself think.
posted by Splunge at 8:34 AM on November 24 [3 favorites]

Tbh not so much into the poachers being ground into dust, because they’re operating out of financial need in sometimes dire circumstances, but I’m 50000000% into grinding into powder the people who create and continue the market for rhino horns. People could buy Viagra and Cialis instead, but you buy rhino horn instead to flex? Fuck them, and I say this as a person of Chinese descent who has benefited from Chinese medicine in the past.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:33 AM on November 24 [9 favorites]

Dogs are just the best. Glad they can help save the rhinos and take the poachers down. Fuck those dudes.
posted by Windopaene at 9:56 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Some context about poaching and the economic apartheid that still exists in South Africa
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:04 AM on November 24

Yeaaaaaaah, uh, hunting humans... in Africa... with packs of baying hounds has a bit of a Cuban-Bloodhound-flavored discomfort to it. There is a very long and extremely racially inflected history of hunting BIPOC people with packs of dogs in the Americas in particular that is soaked in blood and terror; I'm less familiar with South African apartheid history on this front but would not be surprised to hear about similar things. (The Cuban Bloodhound lives on in the modern Fila Brasiliero; while they look like the cuddly Bloodhounds we're familiar with in much of the English-speaking world, the strain had a very long history of being used to bite and savage their targets in exactly the same way some folks are calling for here. Filas survive to the present day as dogs bred to guard over the estates of Brazilian plantation owners. It's a whole Thing.)

Stuff that settles my hackles a bit more: the hounds here are coonhounds (redbone and black and tan), which don't have much history of being used in the same way. These specific dogs are trained to simply stand around and bay when they catch up with their human targets, not bite or interact with them. No one is using Rhodesian Ridgebacks (my first thought here and something that immediately made me twitch). The Dutchies and Malinois pictured are more traditionally law enforcement oriented trailing dogs that are not hunting in packs; unclear whether they are also trained for bitework. If I had my druthers I would prefer not, but there's a much larger conversation to be had about the use of dogs in law enforcement generally there.

So I'm glad about that! And the dogs seem to be doing a good job of identifying and stopping poachers, although it's obviously better to try and reduce the incentives to poach as much as possible rather than focusing on punitive measures.
posted by sciatrix at 11:02 AM on November 24 [7 favorites]

MetaFilter: Helicopter full of baying hounds
posted by chavenet at 3:41 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: ground into a powder, is a powerful aphrodisiac.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 4:04 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Awwwww, Bosco was a Black and Tan mix. He would have loved it.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:28 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]

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