Explained: Assam’s K-9 dog squad & breed’s link to Osama killing

Zorba, the first canine of the K-9 squad, is credited with helping to nab 60 poachers, 50 of them in Kaziranga National Park, which is known globally for its one-horned rhinos.

K9 dog squad Assam
K9 dog squad. File photo: Aaranyak

A trained dog squad is helping to track poachers in Assam’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and it also assists forest security personnel in their conservation efforts.

This trained dog squad is dubbed the first of its kind in India. The nation’s first dog squad for wildlife crimes was set up in Assam under the initiative of biodiversity organisation Aaranyak in 2011 with one male Belgian Malinois named Zorba.

The same Belgian Malinois breed dog named Cairo helped the US Navy SEAL team track down and kill terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011.

K-9 dog squad

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The dog squad, named the K9 unit comprises Belgian Malinois dogs along with their handlers, which have been active to assist forest and police officials in Kaziranga and Manas National Park along with other rhino-bearing areas in Assam resulting in the arrest of many poachers by law enforcement agencies, according to Aaranyak.

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“The reason why this particular breed is preferred is because of their extreme prey drive capability. They are capable of even assisting arrests of suspects if the situation demands. Once they pick up a scent and track and come to a lead, they have the capability of outrunning and bringing the suspect down in case the suspect tries to escape. This sniffer dog squad has assisted the forest officials with vital clue of poacher’s exit route after the rhino poaching incidences leading to arrest of culprits by the forest and police officials in different cases,” the organisation said.

‘Very efficient’

The ‘K9 unit’ has over the years evolved into a “very efficient and well-trained one” in tracking down wildlife crimes, said Bibhab Talukdar, the secretary general of Aaranyak.

The squad was set up in 2011 with just one Belgian Malinois, and now has seven dogs with more than one handler for each of them. Two other dogs are undergoing training in Guwahati, Talukdar told PTI.

Zorba’s feat

Zorba, the first canine of the squad, is credited with helping to nab 60 poachers, 50 of them in Kaziranga National Park, which is known globally for its one-horned rhinos. The dog had served mostly in KNP from 2012 till his retirement from service in 2019. On Independence Day that year he was honoured with a traditional ‘gamosa’ and a citation.

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He was also deployed on various occasions in other national parks. One incident of his expertise in tracking poachers stands out in Orang National Park in the state.

He had then given vital clues from the scene of crime leading to the identification of the suspect’s house outside the Park. Later the accused was arrested by forest and police officers, Talukdar said.

Zorba’s lone handler Anil Das said that he is enjoying a retired life at the K9 camp in Guwahati with no duty in harsh field conditions and better health care.

Zorba’s successors

It is now the turn of his successors – Leon, Jubi and Emy to keep guard in the different ranges of Kaziranga. Then there is Misky in Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, Sheela in Raimona and Veera in Orang National Park.

Also read: Central wildlife bureau points to serious lapses in probe of elephant poaching in TN

The transformation of the unit into an efficient and dedicated force took almost a decade of adopting innovative techniques and approaches learnt from numerous training sessions under the watchful eyes of internationally reputed trainers, Talukdar said.

“Members of our K9 squad, including Zorba, have assisted the forest officials with vital clues of poachers’ exit routes after the rhino poaching incidents, leading to arrest of culprits by the forest and police officials in different cases,” he said.

The K9 unit has been running with generous support received from UK-based organisation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation since 2011 and NABU-Germany since 2017.

About Belgian Malinois breed

The Belgian Malinois, also known as the Belgian Shepherd, is the predominant breed utilised by US Navy SEAL teams. This breed has been successfully used as military dog by European forces and has also shown exemplary performance in sniffing out explosives and drugs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also read: Five animal deaths in Kaziranga National Park in flood-hit Assam

According to the US Navy SEALS museum, the Belgian Malinois dogs, also known as Mals in the US are “favoured for their intelligence, agility, loyalty, and stealth.”

“Belgian Malinois are fierce and fast with acute vision. Lighter and leaner than the German Shepherd traditionally employed as the police working dog, the Belgian Malinois sports a compact frame, which is advantageous when tandem parachute jumping or rappelling, an intrinsic part of many SEAL missions. Their exceptional sense of smell makes these canines an optimal breed for detecting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs),” it said.

Belgian Malinois, a breed of herding and working dog was developed in the Malines area of Belgium in the 1800s. The Belgian Malinois is a sturdy well-muscled dog of almost square proportions. It stands about 22 to 26 inches (56 to 66 cm) tall at the withers and weighs from 40 to 80 pounds (18.1 to 36.2 kg). It has a thick coat about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) long, which ranges in colour from yellowish brown to mahogany with black-tipped hairs; the breed typically has a black mask and ears, said Britannica.

The Belgian Malinois breed was the subject of the Hollywood movie Dog, which released in February this year.

(With Agency inputs)

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