Our work shows only a small variety of work that is done by these amazing creatures. From detecting carnivore scats to tracking poachers and protecting livestock. Dogs definitely proof to be one of a kind!
Living in South Africa means living alongside wildlife which is phenomenal (and according to us the best thing in the world), but unfortunately this also creates human-wildlife conflicts. A lot of the species are threatened due to poaching or by being shot because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luckily, our conservation detection dogs, who are trained on scat detection and scent matching, can help us to give information about the distribution and estimated numbers of these species and contribute to their well-being in the future. At the moment, our dogs are trained to detect and match scats of Lion, Cheetah, Wild Dog and Leopard and droppings of Riverine Rabbits. Besides scats or dropping, our dogs can be trained on a large variety of other biological samples from for example, snails to endangered tree species.
The purpose of the Conservation Detection Dogs is to help collect information that otherwise would be either very difficult or very expensive to obtain. While training dogs to find scat might seem a little odd, there is a vast amount of information that can be gleaned such as diet information of the animal, hormone levels, and DNA samples. Furthermore, it means that a whole population can be studied without ever needing to disturb the animals by fitting radio-collars, and it can be significantly cheaper. Non-invasive sampling methods are much preferable to methods that disturb the wildlife, particularly in areas and populations that are already under pressure. These methods are used widely the North America, and Australasia, but have been very limited in Africa to date.
Our aim is to make well-trained dogs available throughout southern Africa and therefore, Green Dogs Conservation can function as an essential intermediary between different conservation organisations, universities and research projects.
Two beautiful White Rhinos
Poaching is currently one of our biggest problems in southern Africa. With Rhino poaching incidents flying through the roof and by finding amazingly small bird snares in Zambia, it shows that something needs to be done and our dogs are here to help. Our tracking dogs will be able to respond to a poaching incident and track the poachers down. Dogs can cover areas much faster and efficient than people and are therefore a really valuable attribute in this fight to protect these beautiful animals.
Poaching is currently one of the biggest and most concerning problems facing wildlife in southern Africa. We can offer two different types of dogs to help combat this problem. The first is tracking dogs whose role is to follow poachers through the bush, and to help stop them if required. Dogs can cover ground faster than people, and can track even where there are no visible signs on the ground. They can cross water and hard surfaces, and offer a real deterrent when dogs are known to be operating in the area. A dog can run twice as fast as a fit human and so be a huge help in catching poachers.
The use of snaring is a common way of poaching but unfortunately also the one most devastating for the populations of target and non-target species. Animals, in this case mostly game species, are poached for biltong, bush-meat, muti and medicinal purposes. Due to the snaring method also predators and even Rhinos are in danger. Snaring is a major cause of damage to wildlife populations, and typically occurs in hotspots along reserve boundaries, around waterholes and in riverine vegetation. By training dogs to locate snares, we can assist with efficient removal of snares, and reduce their impact. If snares in a particular area are consistently found and removed, it will be far less profitable for poachers to frequent those areas. A major trial has been run in South Luangwa in Zambia in June 2013 in collaboration with Working Dogs for Conservation, South Luangwa Conservation Society, the Zambian Carnivore Programme and National Geographic.
Where tracking dogs are not possible due to too many cross tracks or the difficulty in finding the track to start the dog on, it is suggested that detection dogs specifically trained to detect snares through air-scenting can also be an efficient tool in the fight against illegal poaching. Using similar methods to mine tripwire detection dogs, we will be working on developing methods to use dogs to find snares and to allow for their more efficient removal.
Tracking dogs to assist anti-poaching teams are available through Green Dogs Conservation and dogs coming from here are all acclimatised to the bush, the climate and wildlife.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Tuli working with a flock of goats
In southern Africa predation on livestock by Lions, Leopards, Brown and Spotted Hyenas, Wild Dog and Cheetah has resulted in human-wildlife conflicts. These conflicts mainly arise because of competitions by people and large carnivores for a shared, limited resource. The conflict gets even more complicated if the economic value of the shared resource is high and the large carnivore involved is legally protected. The frequency of human-wildlife conflicts world-wide have increased over the last ten years, which is mainly related to the expansion of human presence, habitat loss and fragmentation of the natural living area of the large carnivores and human exploitation of the natural prey base causing a decline in the occurrence of wild prey for the large carnivores thus increases the likelihood of depredation on livestock. Unfortunately, in most situations the large carnivores are paying a large price for preying on livestock, since the majority will get shot in order for the farmer to eliminate further stock losses.
Livestock Guardian Dogs have proven to be an effective and efficient non-lethal tool to protect livestock from large carnivores. Scientific literature shows that if Livestock Guardian Dogs are placed with the stock, stock losses have dropped or even became zero. Direct encounters between the dog and the large carnivores are rare since the dogs are able to keep those animals at a distance from the flock because of barking and scent marking. They also disrupt attempted hunts on the flock and let smaller predators now that there is a larger predator in the vicinity. This results in natural predators being pushed back on natural prey.
Green Dogs Conservation has a breeding programme for Livestock Guardian Dogs in collaboration with Cheetah Outreach. For this programme we use primarily Anatolian Shepherd dogs, which is a landrace that originates from The Anatolian Plateau in Turkey. These dogs have been used for over 6000 years and were recently imported to South Africa. The Anatolian Shepherds instinctively protect livestock against anything different than their flock. Our puppies are born in the kraal and grow up surrounded by goats, sheep or cattle. Human contact and handling should be absolute minimum as the dogs will have to see their flock as being the most important. Within the same breeding programme we also monitor and observe the puppies from when they are born. Depending on the personality and physical characteristics of the puppies we decide whether to place them with goats, sheep or cattle. We only use breeding dogs that have proven to deliver good livestock guardian dogs. Important characteristics of a good livestock guardian dog are a low play drive, independency from the handler, nerve strength, protective instinct and arrested development of prey drive.
Bird Chasing Dogs
Rox training a Border Collie, Buzz, to chase birds
The training of dogs to chase birds is a new and recent development in our Green Dogs Conservation programme. The dogs are trained to chase birds of the runways at airports to prevent them from getting caught in the engines of airplanes. A Border Collie, named Buzz, who was trained for Durban airport is now actively working and has proven to be very successful.
Birds pose a severe risk to aeroplanes as they can cause very expensive damage and potentially put passengers at risk, and so they must be cleared off the runways. The short grass areas alongside runways provide an ideal habitat for many species of birds, and the active presence of a dog chasing them off makes it a less appealing place to be. The dog acts as a predator, even though they are not actually hurting the birds, and encourages them to move on and live in peace somewhere else.
Besides training the dogs to chase birds of runways, we can also help with dogs to reduce bird numbers on golf courses and playing fields.