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A Morning with the K9 Anti-Poaching Unit

3 Mar 2022 | By Author Thornybush | Experiences & Wildlife

Honouring World Wildlife Day today, we thought of what better way to share how we, at Thornybush, are protecting our conservation efforts by introducing you to the incredible team at the Tango K9 anti-poaching unit. This unit plays a vital role in conserving the wildlife on the Thornybush Nature Reserve, and what an honour it was to experience their skills first-hand.

Our marketing team was treated to a morning demonstration at the Tango K9 unit, to see first-hand how these dogs and their handlers operate and the brave work they do in combating poaching in and around the Thornybush Nature Reserve. As TNR is home to an abundant array of wildlife, including the endangered Rhino and Pangolin – teams like this must be kept operational to help keep the reserve protected. 

About Tango K9 

Tango K9 was created as a non-profit organisation to assist in the conservation of endangered species utilising the specific skills of trained K9s (dogs). What was once only a job with armed forces on the ground and on foot has recently seen the introduction of specifically trained K9s and their handlers into the protection field. 

The physiological abilities of these highly trained dogs, as we witnessed on our morning demonstration, far exceed what any technology can deliver and as a combination, is a power to be reckoned with. From cold spoor (human tracks) trailing of human scent to detecting the scent that is specific to their contraband training on wildlife, adding a K9 unit into the reserve has proven to be a powerful addition in combatting poaching. 

As one can assume, their training centre operates in an undisclosed location within the reserve, and as you arrive you can tell that it is built with love and devotion in keeping these K9s safe, yet, kept undistracted from the outside world to carry out their training as working dogs. 

Meeting the Team 

Arriving at the training centre, we were met by the team and their big smiles; it was evident that passion drives this initiative and that the handling team are incredibly proud of what they do, not to mention are utterly devoted to their dogs. 

As we were introduced to each dog and their handler we were told that each handler is responsible for training their K9,  and this team of two becomes a loyal unit that is put through various training techniques to secure their bond, even under high-pressure scenarios. 

The full team, and we’re speaking about the stars here: the K9s, consists of five multi-purpose K9s and three dedicated trailing K9s. The multi-purpose K9s are either the Belgian Malinois or Dutch Shepherds. These K9s are the perfect all-rounders that possess a high drive and clear love to work. As we got to meet each dog, (no touching allowed) it was abundantly clear by the sheer joy on these K9s faces that they look forward to every training session and the job that they go to do every day. 

The Demonstration

During the demo, we were treated to various training exercises which included scent identification hidden under multiple objects, an example of scent hunting in thick bush and even “taking down” a poacher (who was one of the handlers dressed in full protective gear. Poor guy.) 

What blew us away was to find out that each Multi-Purpose K9 can detect various forms of contraband rather than only a specific one. During our session, each dog was tested on various scents, making them incredibly versatile assets, especially when out in the field. This helps the unit not only rely on one dog for one job but training the K9s to be able to operate into any contraband situation. So no matter what task is at hand all the K9s can search vehicles, buildings, bags and do field searches for any of the contraband they have decided is necessary at the time.

But multi-purpose isn’t multi-purpose without being able to do more than one job, right? As well as scent tracking, they’re also man-trackers – this type of trailing is not following one scent at a time, but multiple scents that could mean there are more than one suspect to catch. This helps when time is of the essence and the K9s need to catch the “bad guy/s”, fast. 

After an incredibly interesting morning of scents tracking, high-speed chasing and finding it very hard not to say “good dog” to every wagging tail we got to meet the other team members; the trailing hounds. 

Luckily for us, patting was allowed, and boy was there slobber! But this did not distract us from the fact that these Bloodhound x Doberman crosses are very accomplished man trailing K9s. These K9s are used for their ability to backtrack as well as being able to confirm suspects’ activities on the reserve once apprehended. So even though they may seem like slobbery mounds of fur, they take their jobs very seriously! 

A Guest Experience 

We loved our demonstration and stood in complete awe at how much of an important role this plays on the reserve – and not just our reserve but the knock-on effect it has on neighbouring reserves in the area. We learnt so much about the types of poaching methods that are used by poachers and the ‘simple’ costs of the gear that the dogs and their handlers need to keep fighting to protect our wildlife. We left feeling incredibly humbled (and proud!) at what this team has accomplished. 

As non-profit Tango K9 relies heavily on donations to keep this initiative growing. At Thornybush Lodges you, as a guest can add this demonstration to your diary, to see first-hand how accomplished these K9s and their handlers are and to fully understand the effect of poaching that is still an ongoing threat. We encourage our guests to take this up as an activity, if not to donate to keep our wildlife protected but to learn about what goes on behind the scenes in protecting them.

**To add this experience to your next trip to Thornybush, please speak to your booking agent or lodge manager.