Sniffing out the Bad Guys: How the Belgian Malinois dogs are tracking poachers in Assam

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Belgian Malinois are attack dogs that have been trained to track poachers in Assam’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. A canine named Cairo also took part in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound

Representational Image. Pixabay

With poaching of rhinos being one of the biggest concerns in Assam, the northeastern state has deployed a trained dog squad to sniff out hunters at national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Touted as India’s first dog squad for wildlife crimes, the ‘K9 unit’ was established in Assam in 2011 by biodiversity organisation ‘Aaranyak’.

These imported dogs Belgian Malinoi dogs aid in tracking the poachers as well as assist the forest security personnel in conservation attempts, as per PTI.

Let’s know more about this K9 dog squad:

Assam’s ‘very efficient’ K9 dog squad

A male Belgian Malinois named Zorba was Assam’s first dog trained as part of the ‘K9 unit’ in 2011. The dog unit presently comprises seven canines with more than one handler for each of them, while two more are being trained in Guwahati.

According to PTI, Zorba has assisted in nabbing 60 poachers, of which 50 were apprehended at Kaziranga National Park (KNP).

Zorba, who retired in 2019, served majorly in KNP from 2012. He was honoured with a traditional ‘gamosa’ and a citation on Independence Day this year.

Bibhab Talukdar, the secretary general of ‘Aaranyak’ told PTI that the dog squad has turned into a “very efficient and well-trained” in tracking down criminals these past years.

The ‘good boy’ who helped catch bad guys

Recalling Zorba’s time serving in the K9 unit and tailing poachers, Talukdar said the canine helped identify a suspect’s home outside Orang National Park.

“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,” Talukdar said.

MK Yadava, principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force, who has worked with Zorba at Kaziranga National Park remembers him fondly. “Those were difficult days as poaching was at its height and the K9 team made so much difference in dealing with wildlife crimes,’’ he was quoted as saying by PTI.

As Zorba is now enjoying retirement.

His successors– Leon, Jubi and Emy— have been tasked with safeguarding the different ranges of Kaziranga, which is renowned globally for its one-horned rhinos.

Misky in Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, Sheela in Raimona and Veera in Orang National Park are some other canines keeping a close watch on poachers.

The Belgian Malinois breed

As per American Kennel club, they are a specialised breed of the Belgian shepherds (also called Malinois) that are “smart, confident, and versatile.

“Belgian Malinois is a world-class worker who forges an unbreakable bond with his human partner,” it added.

Known for their “proud carriage of the head”, Belgian Malinois have good build and are alert herders.

Assam chose this breed to form a dog squad owing to their extreme prey drive capability, explained Talukdar.

“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’’, he added.

These attack dogs have also proved their mettle in detecting explosives and drugs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sniffing out the Bad Guys How the Belgian Malinois dogs are tracking poachers in Assam

Belgian Malinois help in sniffing out explosives at Afghanistan’s Kabul. AFP

Operation Neptune Spear

Perhaps their highest-profile involvement came in Operation Neptune Spear.

That was the 2011 operation wherein US Navy SEAL Team Six raided and successfully killed Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan.

A military dog named Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, accompanied 23 SEALs and an interpreter on the raid.

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Poaching in Assam

Poaching of Rhinoceros unicornis (one-horned rhinoceros), which is the state animal, poses a serious problem.

Around 190 rhinos have been poached in the northeastern state since 2000, EastMojo reported citing official data.

In the first poaching incident in five years at Orang, a rhino was found with no horn with its nose covered in blood by the forest officials on 9 May, 2022. Earlier, poachers were caught with tranquiliser darts and drugs in KNP.

However, anti-poaching drives have significantly reduced such incidents during the past five years, EastMojo reported.

With inputs from agencies

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