An experienced dog handler and trainer, it is Gabriel Mpala who has built up an enormous level of trust with all three dogs over the past few years. It is he who has led their training in Limpopo. So, he will remain in Nyika for about six months in order to pass on his knowledge to the new dog handlers here. The mission is to get the three dogs comfortable in their new environment – short grass instead of the mopane sandveld of Limpopo National Park – as well as familiarise them with their new handlers.
Gabriel has worked with the dogs since they were young, training and teaching them how to handle all the pressures of real operations, before beginning to work at 18 months old. This is when they began to learn how to track, bay at a person in a tree and follow basic obedience rules. Now, the dogs are learning how to take instruction from new handlers and in new terrain. Gabriel teaches the teams how to hold the long lead loosely, so the dogs do not feel restricted. Long or tracking leashes are primarily used by cynologists (people who study canines) when training dogs. It helps to navigate the dog, to train it in recall commands and to fetch. This will be difficult work for the dogs, so it is important to lavish them with praise when the dogs get it right.
In fact, in order to become expert dog handlers, it is imperative that field rangers show compassion for the dogs and are friendly and concerned with the animals’ well-being.
Nyika National Park now has their very own canine unit. Peace Parks is proud of their canine team and is looking forward to seeing how AK, Jungle, Nkonzo and all the field rangers develop as a unit in the future.