‘First of its kind’ K9 dog team helps hunt down poachers in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park

Photo: iStock

A team of trained dogs in Assam, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, helps track poachers in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the state and aids forest security personnel in their conservation efforts.
The country’s first wildlife crime dog team was established in Assam at the initiative of the biodiversity organization “Aaranyak” in 2011 with a Belgian Malinois named Zorba.
The canine squad known as the “K9 unit” has over the years become a “very efficient and well-trained unit” in tracking down wildlife crimes, said Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of the body which undertook the effort.

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The team, created in 2011 by the biodiversity organization ”Aranyak” with only one Belgian Malinois, now has seven dogs with more than one handler for each of them. Two other dogs are training here, Talukdar told PTI.
Zorba, the team’s lead dog, is credited with helping catch 60 poachers, 50 of them in Kaziranga National Park, world famous for its one-horned rhinos. The dog had served primarily in the KNP from 2012 until his retirement from service in 2019. On Independence Day that year, he was honored with a traditional ‘gamosa’ and a citation.

It has also been deployed on various occasions to other national parks. One incident of his expertise in tracking poachers stands out in Orang National Park in the state.

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He had then given vital clues from the crime scene leading to the identification of the suspect’s house outside the park. Later, the accused was arrested by forest officers and police, Talukdar said.

The Principal Chief Forest Conservator and Head of the Forestry Force, MK Yadava, said he was very lucky to have worked with Zorba in Kaziranga. “Those were tough days as poaching was at its peak and the K9 team made so much difference in the fight against wildlife crime,” he said.

Zorba’s only manager, Anil Das, said he was enjoying a retired life at K9 camp here without duty in harsh field conditions and better health care.

Now it’s the turn of his successors – Leon, Jubi and Emy to stand guard in the various ranges of Kaziranga. Then there’s Misky in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Sheela in Raimona, and Veera in Orang National Park.

Transforming the unit into an effective and dedicated force took nearly a decade of adopting innovative techniques and approaches learned from numerous training sessions under the watchful eyes of internationally renowned trainers, Talukdar said.

“‘Members of our K9 team, including Zorba, have assisted forest officials with vital clues to poachers’ escape routes after rhino poaching incidents, leading to the arrest of culprits by the forest and officials. of the police in different cases,” he said.

The Belgian Malinois breed was selected for this purpose due to its extreme ability to drive prey, Talukdar said. “Once they detect a scent, track and find a trail, they have the ability to outrun and knock down the suspect if the person tries to escape,” Talukdar said.

This breed has been successfully used as a military dog ​​by US and European forces and has also shown exemplary performance in detecting explosives and drugs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The K9 unit has operated with the generous support of UK-based organization the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation since 2011 and NABU-Germany since 2017, he added.

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