On the Trail with Congohounds

With all the conflict in our region, one often feels the weight of the situation, but our work with the bloodhounds never fails to lift our spirits. The natural talent and enthusiasm the dogs bring to their job makes our work a lot of fun. It’s truly a pleasure to be on the canine team with them. To get a feel for what it’s like to work with them, I will take you through a couple of typical training scenarios.

Early Sunday morning on February 10th, Rangers Callixte, Patrick, and I drove from park HQ in Rumangabo north to Katale, several kilometers away. I prepared two trails for the teams to work the next day: one for Ranger Christian and Dodie and one for Ranger David and Sabrina. Early Monday morning, Christian, Dodie, and their security escort headed out to Katale. Christian used a ranger beret as the scent article.

Ranger Christian and Dodie working the scent taken from the beret

Ranger Christian and Dodie working the scent taken from the beret

Ranger Christian and Dodie working the Katale coffee factory area as Ranger Patrick provides security

Ranger Christian and Dodie working the Katale coffee factory area as Ranger Patrick provides security

After checking the scents in all directions, Dodie took off on a scent trail that led in the direction of the village of Katale, which happened to be the direction the “runner” (the person being tracked), Callixte, had gone earlier. Head down and fully focused, Dodie followed the trail for two miles, pulling Christian behind her. Dodie passed through the area of the Katale coffee factory (an area rich in scents), crossed the main street of Katale, and followed the scent trail to a small house. Rangers surrounded the house and ordered anyone inside to come out. Callixte came out smiling with his hands up in the air. The whole exercise took 25 minutes, which tells you how fast and precisely she moved through the area.

Ranger Christian and Dodie inside the house where their runner was hiding

Ranger Christian and Dodie inside the house where their runner was hiding

On Monday afternoon, David and Sabrina worked the second trail. This time, the scent article was a corn cob. The conditions were perfect after a light afternoon rain. The trail went more or less straight in one direction, but zigzagged around small obstacles, such as a small creek, rocks, and tree trunks. Sabrina, being the most sensitive of the bloodhounds, was a bit skittish a first and needed encouragement by her handler, David. With his calming influence, Sabrina found her focus and followed the scent for 45 minutes over the three mile trail, eventually finding Patrick, the runner. Everyone gave Sabrina lots of encouragement for the job well done, which we hope will build her confidence.

Ranger David and Sabrina prepare to start the training exercise

Ranger David and Sabrina prepare to start the training exercise

Ranger David and Sabrina work the trail as goats look on wondering how they can get a hold of that corn cob scent article...

Ranger David and Sabrina work the trail as goats look on wondering how they can get a hold of that corn cob scent article…

Ranger David and Sabrina were not about to be thrown off of the scent trail by Katale creek. A fellow ranger provides security for the team as they close in on the runner.

Ranger David and Sabrina were not about to be thrown off of the scent trail by Katale creek. A fellow ranger provides security for the team as they close in on the runner.

1 Comment

  1. patrice taylor June 7, 2015 Reply

    I Love Virunga National Park and was introduced to you by my friend Suzanne who donated some of her bloodhounds to you, i am a bloodhound owner., but i am also a nurse. I would love to come and work with your Medical team/gorilla doctors at some point. i’m not sure if you have anything like that available. , but would love to actually donate my surgical or medical experience and work with you all at Virunga, i am amazed and in awe at what you all do and your dedication to this park and all within its borders.
    thank you so much

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