Texas hounds chase down rhino poachers in South Africa

Dogs trained to run free in packs are revolutionizing anti-poaching efforts in Kruger National Park.

Two years ago, Joe Braman was living a regular family life with his wife and two daughters on his remote ranch in southern Texas. A part time cop, businessman, and cowboy, he’d never given a thought to the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa. But in May 2018, Braman and his free-running hounds were sprinting across the acacia plains of Kruger National Park chasing armed rhino poachers.

To date since then, according to authorities, his hounds have helped law enforcement teams in the greater Kruger region catch an unprecedented 145 poachers and confiscate 53 guns, boosting the overall rate of successful arrests and providing a new strategy to fight poaching in Africa.

“Just think about it,” Braman says. “If you spun a globe and threw a dart and it stuck, what’s the odds you’ll find a low-key guy in southern Texas’s coastal bend gettin’ picked to stop the extinction of a species?”

Some 8,000 rhinos, whose horns are smuggled to Asia for unfounded medicinal uses, were poached in South Africa from 2008 to 2018, with more than half killed in Kruger, the country’s signature national park, and the surrounding private reserves. There are some 20,000 white rhinos and just over 5,000 critically endangered black rhinos in the wild across Africa. South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s last remaining rhinos.

The Texan connection started early in 2017, when Theresa Sowry, CEO of the Southern African Wildlife College—a wildlife management and training facility based near Kruger—visited Braman in Refugio, Texas, to discuss his experience with hounds and watch them in action. She’d heard about a unique bloodline of aggressive free-running pack dogs—black-and-tan hounds—used in Texas law enforcement to track down escaping prison inmates.

Previously, South African National Parks, the agency that oversees Kruger, had contracted with the college to start a pack dog program as a new tool for rangers during a time of dire rhino losses.

The anti-poaching teams used individual dogs (bloodhounds and Malinois) on leads to track humans. But often the man-dog pairs were unable to keep up with fleeing poachers. Gun fights between rangers and poachers were common, rhinos were dying, and arrests were few.

“Kruger was very keen to test free-running dogs,” Sowry says, adding that the college had been tasked with initiating the pack dog program, but with barely any money or resources. “Building a pack dog team is a massive undertaking,” she explains. “You need the right genetics, the right training, and, most importantly, the right mind-set to bring it all together.” Nobody was up to it before the Texans got involved, she says.

Read the full article on National Geographic