Women on the Frontlines in the Conservation Battle

Women are known for never taking a backseat when it comes to conservation.  The world has been graced with many fearless stalwarts who have led in the way of wildlife conservation. Every day, these heroes put it all on the line in a concerted effort to battle wildlife trafficking, poaching, and the destruction of the habitat of at-risk species, preventing the decimation of our wildlife populations.  


A few of these women include the iconic zoologist Dian Fossey, primatologist Dame Jane Goodall, or South Africa’s very own Ann van Dyk, who is known for her care for our cheetah population. Undoubtedly, women the world over, are tenacious and unrelenting in their efforts to safeguard nature. 


Three other notably heroic women are Esther Matthew, specialist conservation officer at the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Programme, Southern African Wildlife College’s chief executive officer, Theresa Sowry and Vicki Hudson, conservation intelligence manager at the CapeNature Conservation Detection Dog project.


This field of ‘canine conservation detection’ is highly specialised and is a novel approach locally. In fact, the CapeNature Conservation Detection Dog project is one of the first live target conservation detection programmes operational in South Africa. This means these clever and unique hounds are trained to help track living endangered species to ensure their future population growth in a safe and secure environment unaffected by human activities.


Leading the way as a fearless female and trusty canine


Esther and her trusty female partner Jessie, a Border Collie and scent detection dog, are on a mission to save some of South Africa’s critically endangered species. Their Drylands programme operates in the vast Karoo, and they work collaboratively with landowners and communities to promote, sustain, secure and restore the ecological integrity of this area’s biodiversity. 


Trained by Esther to assist the team, Jessie, has been instrumental in locating rare African Giant Bullfrogs underground, and the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit, helping to ensure their long-term survival. 


Commenting on challenges in her field, Esther believes that one of the biggest challenges women face in this field is being underestimated. There is a perception that women are not tough enough for the fieldwork required to do conservation work. However, Esther believes that the best way to overcome this is to change others’ perceptions by proving them wrong and taking up challenges when some say it can’t be done!


Providing the fuel to help keep the pioneering pooches in shape 


ORIJEN sponsors the Drylands initiative’s detection dogs with its Biologically Appropriate dog food, featuring an unmatched 85% meat content. This meat-based diet provides everything these valiant scent detection dogs need to thrive and do a sterling job in identifying and saving vulnerable species.


Another project which is supported by ORIJEN pet food through the sponsorship of nutritious food, is the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC)’s counter-poaching K9 unit, which sees these furry heroes being used in the fight against rhino poaching. The College’s free tracking (off-leash) dogs have to date, in conjunction with the on-lead dogs,  saved approximately 47 rhinos which have in turn, led to 152 poacher arrests and 65 rifles recovered since the project’s inception in February last year. “The free-tracking hounds have been the game changer. The hounds’ “noses”, speed and stamina allow them to track much faster than a human or on-leash dog can, often  across rough terrain,” said Theresa Sowry. In her role as CEO, she is a stand-out conservationist and businesswoman leading efforts to save our rhinos, securing great global support and funding for her efforts.


Not only are these persistent canines tracking poachers and our famous larger mammals, the CapeNature Conservation Detection Dog project sees dogs being trained to find no less than five species of tortoises, each of which have their own unique scent. Vicki Hudson in her role at CapeNature, sees to it that their four-legged conservation heroes locate cryptic and camouflaged species of conservation concern such as the critically endangered Rose’s Mountain Toadlet. 


Together with their fearless female human companions, the dogs have participated in numerous search and rescue operations, salvaging tortoises from death by fire, lack of food and water from the drought and even bulldozers when a piece of land they live on is being developed.


ORIJEN salutes the work being done by these remarkable two and four-legged conservation heroes.  “South Africa’s natural heritage and remarkable wildlife is being saved while endangered species are preserved for generations to come. We are grateful that we are able to support these remarkable efforts and salute these female conservationists during Women’s Month.”