A hound with the special knack of sniffing out tracks long after poachers have left the scene is being hailed as “the difference between life and death of rhino” in the Eastern Cape, where seven rhino have been poached since January.
Ella, a three-year-old bloodhound doberman cross, who was trained in Port Elizabeth, is a cold scent tracker dog, which means she can track poachers up to 24 hours after they have left the scene of a rhino killing.
Her role is to pick up on and track scent that is many hours old and has gone cold so that other detection dogs can be deployed to apprehend the poachers. She is not a biting dog, according to veterinarian and Wilderness Foundation Africa Medivet project co-ordinator Dr William Fowlds, and so it is not her job to bring criminals down.
Since being deployed six weeks ago, Ella has already demonstrated the powers of her extraordinary sense of smell when she sniffed out the tracks of poachers who attacked two rhino in the Lombardini Game Farm near Jeffreys Bay three weeks ago.
“Two rhino were poached at Lombardini and one survived,” said Fowlds. “By the time Ella got there 24 hours later and in the dark, K9 tracker dogs had identified a break in the fence, but Ella was able to track the scent back to the poaching site to establish that the entry was part of the crime scene.”
Fowlds, who is based at the Amakhala Game Reserve, said Ella lives on the reserve with her handler and has a vehicle dedicated to her, but is available to any game reserve in the province.
“She is a shared resource and is busy training at multiple reserves so that she becomes habituated to different environments and terrains.”
Ella is an important new element in the battle against rhino poaching in the province which includes a frontline force of rangers and K9s trained by the Chipembere Rhino Foundation who patrol thousand of kilometres of the Eastern Cape where ruthless poachers killed 19 rhinos last year. Statistics also show that nationally, 529 rhinos were killed since January this year compared to 542 in the same period in 2016.
The acquisition of a hound with heightened olfactory powers was made possible by a collaboration between Wilderness Foundation Africa, the UK’s Medivet Saving the Rhino and the Chipembere Rhino Foundation in support of the Forever Wild Protection initiative. — firstname.lastname@example.org