Venom and Killer are members of a furry breed of anti-poaching operatives, dogs that can detect a whiff of hidden rhino horn in a suspect’s vehicle or follow the spoor of armed poachers in South Africa’s besieged wildlife parks. Dogs are a small part of an increasingly desperate struggle to curb poaching in Africa, where tens of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered in recent years to meet a surging appetite for ivory in Asia, primarily China.
In South Africa, poachers have killed more than 1,000 rhinos this year, surpassing the 2013 record. Countries and conservationists are trying more robust patrols and surveillance, community programs and other tactics against criminal gangs that sometimes benefit from official corruption. As the conflict rages, elite dogs and handlers are drilling at an anti-poaching academy northwest of Johannesburg. The course prepares canine units to find firearms or contraband, track suspects in the undergrowth and abseil in harnesses from helicopters in pursuit of poachers. Dogs and handlers learn to trust each other and fine tune a relationship balancing control and aggression