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Congo Hounds

Rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are using Bloodhounds to track down elephant poachers.

Rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have found a new way to combat poachers. Park authorities have trained five Bloodhounds to help track elephant poachers after several incidents had occurred in the area. This elite anti-poaching canine unit has been specially trained to pick up the scent of would-be poachers and to track them down.

The first operation was launched after several elephant-poaching incidents in Virunga National Park. The two Bloodhounds were brought to the scene of a dead elephant where its tusk had been removed. Together with their trained ranger protection unit, the two dogs followed the scent for more than four miles and lead the rangers to a small fishing village. After patrolling the area, they encountered a group of poachers who fled the scene after opening fire, leaving their weapons behind.

Emmanuel de Merode, the Virunga National Park's chief warden, said: "We are extremely pleased with the outcome. After a year of intensive training, both the hounds and the rangers proved to be a very effective weapon against ivory poachers."

The dogs and rangers were trained by Swiss veterinarian Marlene Zähner, who has two decades of training experience. She arrived with the young bloodhounds and was ready for the difficult task of training the rangers. "Hounds are born to track," Zähner says. "It's the handlers who often need the most training." The dogs did discover new experiences such as unfamiliar foods like cassava and rice to the sounds of gunfire and the barking baboons that would often gather in front of their kennels. Zähner also says that the dogs receive better care than most dogs in the US and Europe. They enjoy round-the-clock attention and affection.

Poaching has become a major epidemic as demand for black-market ivory has increased. Twenty-three elephants were slaughtered in 2011 out of only 350 remaining in the area. The rangers also hope to use the dogs to track down lost and injured rangers and visitors to the area.