17 dog handlers have graduated after seven months of training to enable them to work with eight highly-trained tracker and restraint dogs in Akagera National Park. The canine unit will provide the law enforcement team with a significant boost in securing the parks and preventing illegal activities.
The eight dogs were a donation to Rwanda from the HGB Foundation early in 2015. They had previously been deployed in Central African Republic. With the dogs already highly trained, handlers were recruited to be trained and operate the canine unit. The intensive course consisted of theory and practical programmes on veterinary knowledge and care of a service dog, the theory of scent, bite work, reinforcement training, obstacle work and tracking in the field. It was important for the handlers to develop a relationship with the dogs so they can understand their signals and read their behaviours. For maximum effectiveness and efficiency, the dogs and handlers need to work together as a team.
Seven of the dogs are Belgian Malinois named Reza, Max, Bruno, Bronco, Gozer, Barrack and Tigo, the eighth is a Dutch shepherd named Duco. All are male and around 3-5 years old, highly trained and experienced in law enforcement for tracking and, where necessary, are also able to restrain an assailant until rangers are able to arrest him. While the dogs have remained in Akagera for the training period, in future they may be deployed across all parks in Rwanda to assist in anti-poaching activities and help to secure the integrity of the national parks.
Law enforcement activities in Akagera continues to show significant improvements with huge reductions in all illegal activities. Snare recovery has dropped from 1,997 in 2013 to just 141 at the time of writing in December 2015. Arrests of poachers has gone from 308 in 2012 to just 6.
These have reduced while patrol coverage has increased and the rangers have been trained and properly equipped to carry out patrols. With the recent return of lions, and the planned reintroduction of black rhino in the near future, the law enforcement team continue to be presented with new challenges and must be able to ensure the protection of the park and animals within. The canine unit will provide the team with a significant boost in anti-poaching efforts to carry on the protection and conservation of Akagera National Park.