There’s a deadly war that’s being fought in the South African bushveld and it has claimed the lives of over 5 000 rhinos since 2007. Last year alone, poachers killed 1175 rhinos, the equivalent of almost 3 rhinos a day. These numbers don’t tell a good story and can make this war seem almost impossible to win.
But there is hope. Diego, a 7-year old American Pitbull from the Pit Track K9 conservation and anti-poaching unit, is on the front lines of this war and, along with his handler Carl Thornton, is helping to protect South African rhinos from extinction and giving them a fighting chance.
A hero is made
Diego was only 6 weeks old when he joined Pit Track and was entrusted to Carl. Even at such a young age, the little puppy exhibited an immense drive that would see him eventually become one of the best in his field.
A full year of training was the key to nurturing Diego’s raw talent. In that time, Hennie Binneman at Alpha Omega University for Dogs helped Diego achieve several accreditations, including completing his basic and advanced patrol dog and k9 combat tracking courses. Diego also holds the trainer provider DH1-5 certificate for dog handlers and a TD3 certificate for tracking dogs.
Apart from his expert training, Diego also uses his natural tracking ability to help apprehend poachers. His 6 active years in the field have helped him hone this ability to the point where he doesn’t rely on just his sense of smell, but also uses footprints to visually track down poachers.
And they’re not the only ones that can’t hide from him. Diego is also a master at tracking the Big 6 (hippos included) and his detection and signalling ability for each individual species is often described as a phenomenon.
A dangerous job
Pit Track’s team of handlers and dogs can find themselves in extreme danger when they head out on anti-poaching missions. This is because poachers are often very heavily armed and won’t hesitate to fire their weapons. There’s also strong evidence suggesting that rhino poaching is funded by terrorist organisations, which use the large profits made from rhino horns to carry out their attacks.
It is under these conditions that Diego and Carl have found themselves many a time during their 48 missions together. And it’s also under these conditions that the two have saved each other’s lives. “If I was given the choice between my firearm or my dog during an anti-poaching mission, I would take my dog for sure”, said Carl.
As an American Pitbull, Diego often suffers under the breed’s perceived penchants for violence and aggression. But his work with Pit Track has helped the organisation manage this negative opinion and helped people understand that often it’s humans at fault for not providing these dogs with the correct training.
“On top of all his achievements, Diego has also been a huge ambassador to his own misunderstood breed,” says Carl, “and has proven the problem to be with the handlers and not with the dogs”.
In fact, Diego is so well trained that he often works off-lead during operations. He also loves hanging out with puppies and has been a great help at training the next generation of Pit Track dogs which will help us win the poaching war.
Meet the Pit Track crew
To find out more about the great work that Diego and Pit Track are doing to fight rhino poaching, visit their website here or follow them on Facebook here. You can also watch Pit Track’s dogs and handlers in action on their YouTube page here.
Diego & JOCK
We’re proud to sponsor Diego with our JOCK Multistages premium dog food. It is made from quality ingredients and is rich in key nutrients and Omega fatty acids to ensure Diego remains in the best shape to take on poachers.