In Rwanda, dogs and handlers train to track poachers

In this photo taken Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, tracker dog Bruno, 4, leads his handler Emmanuel Habimana across the savannah as he follows the scent of hidden park rangers playing the role of poachers, during a training exercise in Akagera National Park, eastern Rwanda. The park is using a former South African military dog handler to train a team of tracker dogs in the pursuit of wildlife poachers, following the dogs’ earlier deployment in the search for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) members in the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

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AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK, Rwanda (AP) — One dog being trained to track poachers in a Rwandan national park is nicknamed “Machine” because of his reputed stamina on a trail. Another dog is known as “Professor” because of his seemingly analytical approach when following a scent.

They are, respectively, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois whose regular name is Bruno and a 3-year-old Dutch Shepherd called Duco. They are among eight dogs, along with some Kenyan handlers, who were transferred to Rwanda by the foundation of U.S. philanthropist Howard G. Buffett. Earlier, they were deployed in Central African Republic to sniff out captives and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose leader Joseph Kony is wanted for war crimes.

In Rwanda, the dogs are staying in new kennels at Akagera National Park, where bushmeat poaching has traditionally been a problem. African Parks, a Johannesburg-based group that manages the park, re-introduced lions there this year, nearly two decades after they were wiped out by livestock herders. It also plans to bring in rhinos, whose horns are coveted by poachers.

“The dogs make a huge difference,” said Sean Kelly, a former South African military dog handler who trained the dogs in Central African Republic and has worked with anti-poaching canine units in South Africa, including at the Sabi Sands wildlife reserve.

A wildlife park can distract an inquisitive dog training collars seeking to investigate every animal scent. The key, Kelly said, is to get the dog to focus on the aroma around a footprint or some other clue identifying the quarry.

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