Animals saving animals — how dogs at Kruger National Park are trying to save the rhino #RhinoTearsWine

The battle to save the rhino is a war, whether we want to admit it or not.

The enemy is heavily armed and dangerous — often operating in clandestine groups under the cover of darkness. They move in and out of the country through the Kruger National Park, often completely undetected. And they are brutal. When a rhino horn is being poached, the animal is often still alive. Sometimes, if the shot won’t kill the animal, poachers will hack at its spine with axes or pangas to kill it.

There is, according to Major-General Johan Jooste, a poacher population of 6000 people — and it grows daily. And that, said the army general who was brought out of retirement to head the park’s anti-poaching unit, is a conservative estimate.

Major-General Johan Jooste. He is the man who aims to bring about an end to rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park. It won't be easy, and he knows it. But he believes it is a winnable war. It'll take strong prosecution and police enforcement on both sides of the SA-Moz border, and for international police to get involved in getting to grips with the illegal trade of horn (illegal trade of wildlife products is the 4th largest organised crime network in the world). PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
Major-General Johan Jooste. PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
Humans simply can’t keep up. The poachers are too stealthy, which means that the deed is done well before the rangers get to the scene. This makes tracking almost impossible and arrests increasingly unlikely.

But that’s where Ngwenya, JettaKombi, and Gladys come in.

They are among an ever-growing pack of dogs that are going heads-on into the fight against rhino poaching. And, man, are they effective. This year already, 14 poachers have been tracked down and arrested, and seven firearms recovered thanks to the dogs.

Richard Sowry takes some time out with Kombi, Jetta and Ngwenya. PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
Section ranger Richard Sowry with Kombi, Jetta and Ngwenya. PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
They are able to pick up the scent of a human and allow the rangers to stand a chance of making an arrest. Pack hounds are currently being trained which won’t even need their handlers with them — they will literally run in a pack tracking a scent while being followed in a helicopter. When they get close, the dogs back off, and the humans come in to finish the work.

How important are they? According to Jooste, they are the key to the fight to save the rhino.

“Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. We need dogs — you can’t do this on foot.”

Major-General Johan Jooste

The problem is that dogs are expensive. It will take R60 000 to buy and train just one of these crucial pieces of the anti-poaching puzzle. That doesn’t include feeding, housing and looking after them — nor does it include the cost to train, pay and look after their handlers.

That’s where Rhino Tears Wine has come in. It seems a stretch, I know, to suggest that a wine can make such a difference, but believe me it can. Mt Vernon wines has produced a range of wines — one red, one white (and both delicious, as my two days of hangovers will attest to) — that are raising money for the South African National Parks Honourary Rangers. This completely non-profit group, comprised only of volunteers, takes this money and buys vital equipment for the rangers, and is also heavily funding the dog project in the park.

R15 will be donated to the SANParks Honourary Rangers for every bottle of Rhino Tears sold. PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
Rhino Tears, allowing you to save rhino as you suip. PICTURE: Ravi Gajjar
For every bottle of Rhino Tears, R15 is given to the Honourary Rangers. Already it’s making a difference. More than R265 000 has already been raised. That’s mightily impressive! From May 1, the wine can be bought online here. For now, log on, enter your email addy and they’ll keep you in the loop.

For the full story, get your copy of the Sunday Times today. If/when the story goes to TimesLIVE I’ll post a link. 

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