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Review: ‘Called By The Wild’

Reviewer: Lorraine Kearney (Getaway)

Called By The Wild by Conraad De Rosner ISBN: 9781776193349
Trade Paperback

Itʼs a constant battle for our wildlife out there. Conservationists, game rangers and anti-poaching units versus scores of poachers; the prize, Africaʼs wild animals. In the animalsʼ corner – in our corner – are the hard men and women  in the wild places, people like Conraad de Rosner. Conraad, director of K9 Conservation, is an old- fashioned hero, ʻa bush warriorʼ. He has been in the wild practically since he was born, and has seen first-hand the change that has become common over the years, the staggering growth of habitat destruction and loss, but most specifically, the relentless, brutal rise of poaching to feed the insatiable demand of people far from our shores, as well as local bush meat markets. Rhino horns, elephant tusks, pangolin scales, lionsʼ teeth, bones, claws. That and the ever-increasing hunt for bushmeat.

As he writes in his book, Called by the Wild: The Dogs Trained To Protect Wildlife, bushmeat poaching is more common and on a broader scale, and is far more destructive to biodiversity as a whole than rhino poaching: ʻAlthough rhino horn poaching is the countryʼs most high-profile wildlife crime and [is] likely to result in the first extinction of a large mammal since the woolly mammoth, in our view illegal bushmeat hunting is far more prolific and serious due to the sheer number of animals slaughtered on an ongoing basis – far more serious than most people are aware of in todayʼs day and age.ʼ

He, his team and various anti-poaching units search and destroy wire/cable snares, gill nets, nooses and other illegal hunting devices and traps every day. An animal caught in one of these dies in the most cruel and barbaric way imaginable. And he has been fighting for as long as anyone can remember, spearheading the use of dogs in anti-poaching units. Boots and paws on the ground, first as a ranger at several game reserves and concessions, and then through his company, founded in 2011.

Depending on the breed, a dogʼs sense of smell is up to 10 000 times more powerful than a humanʼs. A dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. We have about six million. ʻProportionally, the part of their brain that processes different scents is 40 times greater than ours,ʼ he writes.

Many in the field are in no doubt that well-trained dogs and skilled handlers are among the most significant game changers in conservation. They chase poachers, track injured animals for vets, find blood spoors, sound danger alarms and sniff out evidence.


Training a dog is one thing, training the handler an altogether more challenging task. The handler needs to know how to interpret the dog’s body language and understand its skills. It requires constant training and spending a lot of time with the dog.

Many handlers develop a rapport with their dogs that goes deeper than just two elements in a unit. ʻThe relationship between the dog and its handler is of vital importance for success. It’s a relationship and partnership of trust and knowing the dogʼs limitations,ʼ Conraad explains. ʻThereʼs a special bond that the two create with each other. [Some handlers] share a deep emotional bond with their dog.ʼ

Using its sensors, a dog learns through imprinting how to follow human scent trails, identify blood, find snares and detect contraband and substances, but ʻthat special connection, that sparks where the handler and the dog are at one with each other, that is something [that] is rarer to findʼ.

Training up a dog is a long process that starts when the puppy is about two months old. As with human children, it all starts with learning through play, praise and reward.

At K9 Conservation, the working dogs themselves are an integral part of the training. ʻWhen one of our working dogs reaches the age of about eight years old, we bring in a younger “learner dog”. The older dog and the handler will then train up the younger.ʼ

Itʼs an extraordinary form of canine mentorship. Training is a progressive process that takes up to two years until the young dog is qualified and experienced enough to work in the bush. They are also assessed and certified to legally operate in the industry.

First, the field ranger needs to do a dog handling course, which takes three months, at an accredited training company. Only then will K9 Conservation become involved with pairing a dog trained by them with a handler. That pairing process also takes about three months.

It is an exacting time: the handler needs to learn to read their dogʼs body language, which shows whether that dog is indicating the presence of a predator or a human scent trail, for example.

Poaching is only one aspect. K9 Conservationʼs dogs are also highly adept at tracking injured or sick animals, and the company works closely with wildlife vets. Conraad places these people among the true heroes of conservation.

Aside from the human threat conservationists face, they also have to stay alert for the inhabitants of the bush – the wildlife. Certain animals pose a significant threat for dogs and handlers. Dogs are ʻcroc caviarʼand buffalo will charge at them and handlers alike. Running into stealthy cats with a dog at your side is no joke either.

These days, nobody argues about the value of dogs in conservation, but it has not always been so. Conraad laboured for many years to get people in the industry to recognise the value of a good bush dog. Today they are referred to as anti-poaching unit service dogs. ʻThe use of these well-trained service dogs is being referred to as a vital piece in the proverbial toolkit, as the game rangers say nowadays,ʼ he says. ʻService dogs are making a huge difference in either deterring poachers or effectively aiding and assisting field rangers in locating poachers hiding in the bushes. An important function is also detecting wildlife contraband.

ʻIt has been a monumental effort and taken years for the working dogs and the handlers to reach the level of proficiency required to effectively make a massive difference on a larger scale throughout South African game reserves and agricultural farms.ʼ There have been plenty of successes, and Conraad stresses that these are the result of teamwork, with the invaluable help of local farm watches and working closely alongside various other anti-poaching units and provincial and national government authorities.

To read the full article, check out the March edition of Getaway

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