A trained dog squad in Assam, billed to be the first of its kind in the country, is helping to track poachers in the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries of the state and assist forest security personnel in their conservation efforts.
The nation’s first dog squad for wildlife crimes was set up in Assam under the initiative of biodiversity organization Aaranyak’ in 2011 with one male Belgian Malinois named Zorba.
The dog squad known as the ‘K9 unit’ has over the years evolved into a ‘very efficient and well-trained one” in tracking down wildlife crimes, said Bibhab Talukdar, the secretary general of the body which has undertaken the effort.
The squad, set up in 2011 by the biodiversity organisation ‘Aranyak” with just one Belgian Malinois, now has seven dogs with more than one handler for each of them. Two other dogs are undergoing training here, Talukdar told PTI.
Zorba, the first canine of the squad, is credited with helping to nab 60 poachers, 50 of them in Kaziranga National Park, which is known globally for its one-horned rhinos. The dog had served mostly in KNP from 2012 till his retirement from service in 2019. On Independence Day that year he was honoured with a traditional ‘gamosa’ and a citation.
He was also deployed on various occasions in other national parks. One incident of his expertise in tracking poachers stands out in Orang National Park in the state.
He had then given vital clues from the scene of crime leading to the identification of the suspect’s house outside the Park. Later the accused was arrested by forest and police officers, Talukdar said.
Principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force M K Yadava said that he was very fortunate to have worked with Zorba at Kaziranga. “Those were difficult days as poaching was at its height and the K9 team made so much difference in dealing with wildlife crimes,” he said.
Zorba’s lone handler Anil Das said that he is enjoying a retired life at the K9 camp here with no duty in harsh field conditions and better health care.
It is now the turn of his successors – Leon, Jubi and Emy to keep guard in the different ranges of Kaziranga. Then there is Misky in Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, Sheela in Raimona and Veera in Orang National Park
The transformation of the unit into an efficient and dedicated force took almost a decade of adopting innovative techniques and approaches learnt from numerous training sessions under the watchful eyes of internationally reputed trainers, Talukdar said.
‘Members of our K9 squad, including Zorba, have assisted the forest officials with vital clues of poachers’ exit routes after the rhino poaching incidents, leading to arrest of culprits by the forest and police officials in different cases, he said.
The Belgian Malinois breed was selected for the purpose due to their extreme prey drive capability, Talukdar said. ‘Once they pick up a scent, track and come to a lead, they have the capability of outrunning and bringing the suspect down if the person tries to escape”, Talukdar said.
This breed has been successfully used as military dog by American and European forces and has also shown exemplary performance in sniffing out explosives and drugs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The K9 unit has been running with generous support received from the UK-based organisation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation since 2011 and NABU-Germany since 2017, he added.