The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park employs a lean, mean team of crime-fighters to take on evil elephant poachers. These elite commandoes are fearless trackers, work for practically nothing, have exceptional loyalty, and are a pack of adorable puppies.
Meet Carla, Stella, Lila, Dodi, Lily, and Sabrina. The bloodhounds — or Congohounds, as they’re called in Virunga — are currently being trained to protect the National Park’s animals from poachers. Rangers rely on the hounds’ especially keen sniffers to track and apprehend suspects — bloodhounds can identify a single scent out of 5 million competing smells.
The goal of the program is to better protect Virunga’s critically endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife from poachers, and in general, help enforce the rule of law, which is critical to re-establishing Virunga’s tourism trade. The program will also greatly improve the park’s ability to quickly find lost and critically injured rangers, many of whom have died needlessly while awaiting help.
Two of the Congohounds embarked on their first crime-fighting mission last week, after routine aerial surveillance spotted a slain elephant, its tusks hacked off its face. Dodi and Lily were dispatched to the scene. The dogs picked up a scent, leading rangers on a trail heading towards a nearby fishing village. A ranger then caught up with the suspected poachers, who opened fire, but eventually dropped their weapons and fled the scene. Then everyone got a biscuit!
If the Congohound program shapes up to be as effective as promised, it could be useful elsewhere. Nearby Cameroon is currently experiencing one of its worst bouts of elephant poaching — between 200 and 450 elephants have been killed for their tusks over the past few months alone. The country recently deployed more than 100 government soldiers to Bouba N’Djida National Park to fight said poaching, but obviously what they really need is puppy snuggles.