POACHERS stalking the Serengeti wildlife conservation areas in Mara Region will be in for a surprise, after Singita Grumeti game scouts take up their positions, this time around with well trained sniffer dogs.
The trained dogs were imported recently by the Singita Grumeti Fund (SGF) from the USA and are ready to move into action and tackle poachers in Serengeti and Bunda districts.
The four dogs, according to Mr Grant Burden, the Head of Special Projects at SGF are an offer from the US-based Working Dogs for Conservation, and will help deter and deflect poaching in the area.
“The dogs underwent training in the US before coming to Tanzania. They are capable of recognizing elephant tusks, rhino horns, bush meat, pangolin scales and ammunition, “ Mr Grant told the ‘Daily News’ in Serengeti.
SGF game scouts have expressed optimism that the dogs will make their duty easier and more efficient. When reached for comment, the Serengeti National Park (SENAPA) Chief Park Warden Mr William Mwakilema said the use of dogs in anti-poaching activities has been ideal.
“We (SENAPA) have been using dogs for more than six years. If they are well trained they can perform well because one thing is for real, they can’t be bribed, “ Mr Mwakilema said.
Thus, he welcomed the decision made by SGF saying that they would supplement ongoing anti-poaching efforts in Western Serengeti. “There are times when we deployed our dogs to SGF areas and they did a good job and caught some culprits, “ the SE NAPA chief park warden said.
The dogs have been trained on how to rummage around elephant tusks, bush meat, pangolin scales, rhino horns, ammunition and snare. The aim is to ensure that the 350,000 acres property, being conserved and managed by SGF within Ikorongo/ Grumeti Game Reserves and Ikona Wildlife Management (WMA) is free from poachers who are mostly targeting bush meat locally known as vimoro.
Last year, the Singita Grumeti Fund’s anti-poaching game scouts recovered 1,276 snares, conducted 4,445 patrols covering 25,247 kilometers on foot and facilitated to the arrest of 360 poachers.
Besides forming the integral part of the Serengeti- Masai Mara ecosystem, Ikorongo/ Grumeti Game complex and the Ikona WMA border the world famous Serengeti National Park (SENAPA).
SGF operational area is also one of the essential routes for the great migration wildebeest that attracts tourists from different parts of the world, thus keeping the area free from wildlife killers of paramount importance for sustainable development of tourism and conservation sectors in the country.
“The presence of these dogs has already reached the villages in Serengeti and Bunda districts, poachers are on will face the music unless they heed the law, “ said Mgoye Lugatiri (40), one of the game scouts who is now the head of the dog handlers at SGF.
Mgoye and five other SGF game scouts are currently undergoing an intensive training on dog handling that is scheduled to take about two months. “We want to ensure that the handlers are competent and the dogs are comfortable because they have undergone massive transition from the state of Virginia to Tanzania., that is 16 hours on air, ”Mr Grant said.
The six men together with the four dogs form a newly established canine unit at SGF. The SGF game scouts are lucky to receive the dog handling skills from Ms Karin Wagemann, a dog training and behavior expert from the American Society of Canine Trainers.
“Among other things the game scouts learn basics things like how the dogs think, how to feed and handle them “, Ms Karin said as she was training the game scouts. On his part Mayunga Paul (39), another game scout said it took him about three days to be friendly with the dogs.
“You have to play with the dogs very often and in so doing they become friends and even claim your voice and appearance (sura)”, Mr Mayunga said expressing readiness to start dealing with poachers by using the dogs. Majority of the SGF’s game scouts were born and brought up in rural villages where tradi tional dogs are used to hunt wild animals for bush meat.
Some game scouts were even notorious poachers but they have now fallen in love with conservation, thanks to the presence of SGF in Tanzania. According to Mr Mgoye, illegal hunting for bush meat is a big challenge in the area but he expressed much hope that the coming of dogs will greatly help to reduce if not ending the problem.
“There are many poachers in this area (Western Serengeti) but with the help of these dogs we are well prepared to do the job in collaboration with other government agencies, “ he said.
The dog handlers will be working close with a Special Operation Group going around road block check points and suspected houses in the villages for the dogs to search government trophies.
The good relationship that exists between SFG and other stakeholders including the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA) and government agencies like the police force is expected to see the program recording admirable successes.
“We have good relationship with TAWA, TANAPA and the police force and they are all aware and excited with the coming of the dogs and ready to work with us “, Mr Grant further said.
Besides conservation, SGF a non-profit organization also supports local development in areas of education and enterprise development currently getting top priority, a move that had greatly helped to change mind sets of local communities who in the past relied on poaching as one of the major sources of living.