Mapungubwe National Park received two specially trained tracking dogs on Saturday 30 January during a special canine handover ceremony held at the park.
The project is a combined effort by the Honorary Rangers together with remarkable assistance from Woolworths South Africa and it was originally initiated by Niekie de Beer.
Tracking dogs, Stacey and Mascot, was handed over to their new bosses, rangers David and Mahumane (their surnames are withheld due to security reasons).
The two rangers became part of an elite group of dog handlers which will assist the rangers in conserving Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site for generations to come.
Louis Lemmer, Chairperson of the National Executive Committee of SANParks Honorary Rangers, said that it is important to understand how special the National Parks are. “The heritage parks, like Mapungubwe, are for our children. Thanks to the staff members for the good job that you do” he said.
He said that the parks bring in visitors and tourists therefore one must never underestimate the importance of SA’s parks.
He said that South Africa has a rich heritage and it must be looked after. “The two well-trained dogs are here for a very special purpose, because poachers steal from our country and our people and to smuggle is to steal from SA’s own coffers. The dogs will help to protect the park and we hope they will make a positive difference” he said. He continued by saying that Honorary Rangers are unpaid volunteers who help to promote the parks and they do it with passion, because they know how important it is for the country.
He had a special word of thanks to the Waterberg region for their involvement in all the parks. “Today is an example of how different people can come together to achieve something. Today’s process started in the Cape at the Table Mountain region of Honorary Rangers when Woolworths indicated that they wanted to get involved in some way. The topic of the trail dogs came up and today it is a reality. This is an example of SANParks working together with interested parties to make a dream come true. By standing together, our country is so much better off because what happens to one happens to all. Please support our parks for our children, not for us” he concluded.
Thereafter Paulina Phophe, Interpretation Officer at Mapungubwe, managed the kids’ session explaining to the children how conservation works and what it means to the country. She also explained to them that the dogs will assist the park in its conservation efforts. After this the Alldays Youth Choir and Arts group gave performances that were all related to conservation.
Susan Otto, Waterberg Honorary Ranger said the handover of the dogs was an extremely proud moment for them – “these dogs are so important to us in order to ensure that we can preserve this area. Keep up the good work” she said. She also thanked Woolworths for the wonderful gift – you make it easier for the rangers to ensure there is less poaching in this area.
Park Manager Conrad Strauss said that David, Mahumane and the team ensure an elite group of dog handlers in Mapungubwe. “If you look after the dogs well, they will look after you. This team has all it needs now to make Mapungubwe the best park in South Africa – that is what we are aiming at” he said.
David and Mhumane received their final badges from the trainers which means that they are now officially able to train their own dogs.
What does a day in the life of a ranger dog look like?
Depending on the breed of the dog, as well as where the dog works, it might be out on patrol in the field with rangers or on standby with reaction forces ready to track poachers if an incident takes place. There are also dogs working at the entrance gates of parks to search vehicles entering or exiting the park.
How does a dog find poachers in an environment such as Mapungubwe?
Dogs have a highly sensitive olfactory system. They are able to discriminate between human scents. Scent-carrying skin cells drop from a living human leaving a trace that dogs can follow. Tracking dogs work on leads through a variety of terrain where human visual tracking might not be possible.
They are able to successfully outmanoeuvre counter-measures where poachers might try to confuse dogs. This makes rangers’ dogs incredibly useful and important members of the counter-poaching teams.