By Stephen Rwembeho
Sniffer dogs have been introduced in Akagera National Park to check poaching of endangered animal species.
Speaking to The New Times on Sunday, Jes Gruner, the park manager said the dogs proved to be resourceful in the monitoring of suspicious activity in the park.
Jes said conservationists and park rangers will now challenge the poachers with the help of well-trained sniffer dogs.
He said the rangers were trained as dog handlers, and once the dogs have completed an intensive training programme, they would be handed over to their rangers who they will assist in patrolling different areas of the park.
“We have introduced Canine unit Rangers, and with the help of their partners, they will conduct daily patrols in the areas where poaching is common. We expect the anti-poaching initiative to successfully arrest poachers. There is no doubt Canine unit will make a great difference.”
He added that the dogs are physically suited for the task and have immense confidence and intense focus, coupled with an extraordinary sense of smell.
“They are capable of restraining poachers until the rangers are able to arrest them but the focus is on tracking.”
The dogs, that include seven Belgium Malinois and one Dutch Shepherd, arrived with two professional trainers and a handler who will be instrumental in training the new handlers in one year.
The programme is being funded by the Rwanda Development Board.
Meanwhile, Jes said that the park will soon re-introduce the black Rhinos after reintroducing lions.
The lions are set to be released to roam the park with collared monitoring tags around their necks on July 27.
Reflecting on the wildlife-human conflict mitigation, he said there is need to create a buffer zone that separates the park from human settlements.
“We employ hundreds of people and give 5 per cent of the park revenue back to the community. At least 50 meters should separate the park from human settlement. That is the buffer zone.”
The Governor of Eastern Province, Odette Uwamariya, who visited the park over the weekend, reiterated the need to prevent human- animal conflict.
“We saw the lions and we look forward to seeing the rhinos again as well. The fact that 53 per cent of the 28,000 recent visitors of the park were Rwandans is encouraging… local leaders will do everything they can to help park officials protect the animals,” she said.