Protecting Zimbabwe’s Natural Heritage

As many rhino populations in Africa dwindle due to relentless persecution by armed gangs of poachers, rhino population strong-holds such as the Bubye Valley Conservancy are coming under increasing pressure.

We lost 22 rhinos in 2015 – compared with only 7 in 2014, and 5 in 2013…


As horrific as this photograph is, it is important that people see the reality of poaching.

This is not being done by hungry people who are just trying to feed their families – it is being done by brutal organized crime killers who switch from killing rhinos to killing elephants to human trafficking and carjacking.


The Black Rhinoceros

Black rhinos Diceros bicornis are critically endangered, and since photographic tourism in Zimbabwe took a dive in about the year 2000, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has been unable to adequately protect this sensitive species in the country’s vast parks estates.


Despite the fall in photographic tourism, Zimbabwe retained an excellent international reputation as a hunting destination, and a few privately owned conservancies (such as the Bubye Valley Conservancy and the Save Valley Conservancy amongst others) were able to remain operational. Any responsible wildlife managemer knows that an investment in anti-poaching is essential to protecting the very resource that provides the income and incentive to maintain the biodiversity, and as such, many rhinos were moved out of parks estates and former private land designated for resettlement into the Bubye Valley Conservancy, where the infrastructure was in place to offer them the best possible protection.

The Bubye Valley Conservancy would not exist as it is without being run and managed by people to whom conservation is the ultimate goal – and since its formation, all revenue has been invested back into the Conservancy. It therefore goes without saying that the Bubye Valley Conservancy glady accepted the responsibility and challenge of the black rhino custodianship.

The Cost of Conservation

Bear in mind that having rhinos on private land is not to the advantage of the landowner . . .

Black rhinos are an endangered species that cannot be hunted, and there is no realistic possibility for photographic tourism in certain areas of Zimbabwe at this point in time. Therefore rhinos come with a huge associated cost, and without any option of generating revenue.

Since accepting the responsibility for black rhinos, the Bubye Valley Conservancy has had to increase the size of its anti-poaching force by a factor of 6! Not only were more personnel required, but they also had to be trained to deal with a whole new level of poacher; not the subsistance level snaring they were used to – but professional killers armed with automatic weapons. More vehicles were required, as was a specialised radio communication system, kit, weapons, and a full-time experienced anti-poaching manager to run and lead the team. This all costs a lot of money – and we are very grateful to organisations such as The Beit Trust and The Lowveld Rhino Trust, as well as many of clients and friends (see our ‘Thanks‘ page) for stepping up and donating much needed equipment and funds. However, the annual running costs of the anti-poaching operation still amount to upwards of US$ 300,000 per annum that the shareholders of the Bubye Valley Conservancy have to somehow find in the ever more difficult business environment that is trophy hunting – and with none of this money being generated by the rhinos themselves.


ANTIPOACH-Carla Some good news…

In 2007, six month old Carla was found trying to suckle from the bloated body of her poached mother’s carcass in what was then Chiredzi River Conservancy, Zimbabwe. The poachers had also shot Carla and tried to cut off her horns with a machete but the blows to her head must have revived her from unconsciousness and she managed to escape the poachers. Carla was captured and after months of daily treatment of her wounds, and then many more months of bottle feeding, she was returned to the wild in the Bubye Valley Conservancy. ANTIPOACH-CarlaCalf2 ANTIPOACH-CarlaCalf1 Carla has recently been seen with her first calf (right) – a sign that she has successfully integrated back into the wild black rhino population here. If Carla matches the breeding performance of the other female black rhinos in the Bubye Valley Conservancy she could have as many as 14 calves in her lifetime.

There is hope…


The Bubye Valley Conservancy now boasts the third largest black rhino population in the world (second to Kruger National Park South Africa and Etosha in Namibia), and importantly still maintains a positive population growth rate (more births than deaths).

One the most famous (or infamous!) phrases in Zimbabwe is

“make a plan…”

And that is exactly what the forward minded management of the Bubye Valley Conservancy is doing:

Enter the Malinois (Belgian Shepherd Dog) . . .


The Malinois is a large breed, used as a working dog for tasks including sniffing for explosives, accelerants, and drugs; as well as tracking of humans – both criminals and lost souls in search and rescue missions. The U.S. Secret Service even uses the Malinois to guard the White House!

With the help of the Bubye Valley Conservancy’s clients and friends (not mutually exclusive), we are taking the fight to the poachers, with the assistance of 4 new Malinois dogs – who at the time of writing this are still puppies living in Belgium, about to be selected and trained.

Whilst the Bubye Valley Conservancy Anti-Poaching Unit is incredibly professional with some of the best individual trackers alive, human trackers cannot follow what they cannot see – even though we may know that poachers are afoot. Poachers use this to their advantage by doing their dirty work at night and trying to escape before dawn.


The Malinois

With the help of these dogs, poachers will be unable to hide, and they will lose the advantage of darkness. We also anticipate that these dogs will become a massive deterant to the poachers, who would have to reconsider their cost/benefit analysis of their business.

Most importantly, these dogs will not be exclusively used at the Bubye Valley Conservancy, but will be based near the Matopos National Park (which has the largest rhino population in Parks’ estates) and a fast reaction helicopter so that they can be rapidly deployed wherever they are needed in the country. They have even been offered to help assist the Zimbabwe police force in tracking down criminals when not chasing poachers. Truly a wonderful relationship between man and an animal.

A more detailed description of the Malinois program (officially called the Canine SOUL Trust) is given below:

Canine SOUL Trust

(Canines Safeguarding Our Legacy)



To establish a canine base of operations in Zimbabwe to provide support to National Parks, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Conservancies and Trusts that are dealing with poaching issues. These canine teams will be trained at a central location and then deployed into a variety of areas to detect illegal wildlife goods and provide support in the apprehension of poachers.



The short-term goal is to build a kennel and train 3-5 handlers. With these handlers, and proactive coordination with the various agencies, a flexible deployment operation can be designed and implemented to ensure that the teams increase the chances of initial success in apprehending poachers. The credibility of the teams is vital to acceptance by the various authorities that will be required to embrace these new capabilities to allow expanded areas of operations. The long-term goals are to identify key locations to deploy canine teams on a rotary basis providing both tracking and enhanced detection support to relevant agencies. These locations will be identified as the illegal wildlife trade develops and evolves. Critical support from ZRP and NP leadership will be sought throughout the development of the program, with the goal of securing locations in critical areas to reduce reaction times.



Currently there are little to no canine resources available to the greater anti-poaching community. The few agencies that have the luxury are remotely located and lack the expertise to maximize the potential of the capabilities. Canine handling is a team requirement that demands significant training of both the handler and the canine. A fully trained team is vastly more effective than a team that has either a well-trained handler or a well trained canine. The handler’s energy should be reflected in the dog which raises the point for the development of a well selected handler, which is just as important as the selection of the canine.

Poachers are able to gain access and conduct operations, often successfully. Visual trackers are successful, however run into issues during inclement weather and lose momentum as light deteriorates. Canine teams can enhance the follow-up, identify start areas/break-ins and be used to provide additional evidence in the apprehension leading to longer sentences. Dogs can be trained to multi-task, such as identify rhino horn, ivory, snares, bush meat and track – however it is important to note that the more capabilities a dog has the more training is required on a day to day basis to maintain the standards of efficiency.


The various capabilities include:



The canine is trained to follow a track that is 2 hours old at a basic level over 5 kilometers with two 90 degree turns. This capability can be deployed in one of two roles: intelligence led entry points are identified and the canine team can be employed to track the poachers prior to them harvesting illegal goods; the team can also be used immediately after poachers have illegally harvested wildlife goods, ensuring a faster follow-up element that will increase the anti-poaching team’s chances of apprehending the criminals.


Area Search

The canine will search an open area for a target odour (ivory, rhino horn) off leash under direct control of the handler. The canine will identify the target odour with a passive indication.


Vehicle Search

The canine team can be deployed to strategic areas to conduct searches of vehicles. This capability will allow the canines to provide both a visual and psychological deterrent as well as limiting access routes to poachers forcing them to find alternative means.


Luggage Search

Canine teams can be deployed to airports, bus terminals and ferry ports to conduct searches of personal belongings that may be used to transport illegal wildlife goods.


Project Outline

This project will be broken into 5 phases. After each phase is an outline of projected costs of each phase. Prior to the initial phase a trust will be set up in which funding can be deposited and proper accounting and auditing practices can be in place.

Set-up Cost:

Trust: US$ 1,500.00


Phase 1

The initial phase where a kennel location will be identified and constructed.The kennel will be designed into 4 blocks for potential expansion at laterdates. A five kennel building with imprinting and veterinary areas will be constructed to provide a healthy life and immediate training and veterinary facilities. As demand increases the kennel can be expanded in multiples of 5 to supply training and resources to local, national and regional agencies.

Granite Ridge P/L T/A, the Farmhouse, has agreed to house the kennels and training facility. The owners T.A.J. O’Hara and Dr. Kyle Marie Good are both conservation-minded people and have spent many years involved with various conservation projects. The location is centrally situated for several of the key rhino populations in Zimbabwe. An agreement between the Trust and Granite Ridge P/L will be constructed to protect both parties. As the Farmhouse is a tourism facility, the Trust may gain extra sustainable income due to eco-tourism by making tourists aware of the project and collecting a donation for allowing tourists to witness the training of the dogs.

Costs of Phase 1:

Kennel Construction: US$ 24,500.00

Time frame: 45 days


Phase 2

3-5 canines will be procured and shipped to the kennel facility where acclimation can begin and basic training can start. A solid foundation will be required in obedience and basic tracking/detection prior to handler allocation. This training will be conducted over 3-4 weeks immediately prior to the handlers arriving for their training course. Phase 2 through 5 will have dogs to be ready for deployment with handlers.


Phase 3

Successful handler selection is extremely important to ensure the health and increased standard of the future capability. The handlers that successfully graduate from the course will be working independently from the kennel management and will be required to have great natural ability, empathy, initiative and willingness to fully trust the canine. Handlers will need to be educated, physically fit and have experience in regular anti-poaching operations. Anti-poaching operations are dangerous and require clear headed personnel to make appropriate decisions at a moments notice. On top of all of this they will be required to ensure the health and well being of their canine partner, and maintain the standards of efficiency.


Phase 4

Once the kennels have been built, training areas are established, canines procured and the handlers are selected, phase 4 can begin. The Tracker and Illegal Wildlife Goods detection dog (IWGDD) training will be a 12 week course conducted at the central training kennel. During this course a maximum of 10 handlers (1:5 student instructor ratio) will be fully instructed and tested in the following areas:

– Illegal wildlife goods detection (snares, bush meat, rhino horn, ivory)

– Follow-up tracking

– High-risk tracking

– Basic unleash obedience

– Off leash obedience

– Live fire exercises

– Environmental exposures such as vehicles, aircraft, wildlife and excessive distractors

– Kennel management

– Veterinary first-aid



After course completion, the handlers will be certified independently to ensure that the teams are able to legally conduct anti-poaching operations. This certification will be conducted over a one week period, which will cover the various disciplines of the IWGDD course.


Phase 5

Once the teams have completed their course and are certified with the new capabilities and operational training, then deployment will commence with preselected agencies. They will work the teams in a live environment alongside operators that have no canine experience. This phase will be used to set the teams up for future success. It is important that the initial deployments are supported fully by the security element working alongside the handler. The success of these operations will be highly publicized giving recognition to the ZRP and/or ZNPWMA.

Time frame: 90 days to deployment

Costs of Phase 2, 3, 4, 5 combined: 39,000 USD (3 trained canines at US$ 13,000.00 each)

Training equipment: US$ 3,000.00

Veterinary equipment: US$ 3,000.00

Maintenance of canines: US$ 120.00 per month (US$ 1,440 per year)

Trainer and 2 handlers wages: US$ 2,600.00 per month (US$ 31,200 per year)

Food and Housing for 1 Trainer and 2 Handlers: US$ 1,200.00 per month (US$ 14,400 per year)

Vehicle equipped with cages for deployment: US$ 45,000.00

Fuel: US$ 800.00 per month (US$ 9,600.00 per year)

Administration/office costs: US$ 120 per month (US$ 1,440 per year)

Total cost for set up: US$ 116,000.00

Running costs for 1 year of operation: US$ 59,080.00


There is something distinctly prehistoric about rhinos

Unfortunately the reality is that they could could soon join the ranks of the dinosaurs

What you can do…

These dogs are incredibly expensive to train and handle – working out at US$ 10,000 per animal just to get started, and which does not include their annual maintenance costs . . .

If you are in a position to help, funding these dogs could be one of the most effective rhino conservation tools to date.

Please contact the team if you would like to learn more about this program: