To say that 2020 has been a tumultuous year would be an understatement. As the year began, no-one knew what was about to happen or how much the world would change in such a short time. But we have made it to the end of the year; a year that will be remembered for a long time to come. It was a year filled with highs and lows and we take this opportunity to reflect upon this time and look forward to a brighter future.

We started off the year hopeful and excited to launch the “Rhino Route” tour, in conjunction with our partner organisations, the Captured in Africa Foundation and Captured in Africa Safari for Change. This eight-day conservation safari includes tours and wildlife viewing as well as taking guests behind the scenes in rhino conservation, with visits to the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary and our teams on deployment. This eco-tourism initiative supports efforts on the frontline with funds going straight back into conservation. Sadly, this tour would abruptly come to a halt as tourism was shut down across the world. We are hopeful that we can welcome visitors on this tour in 2021.

“Drew and Carl were able to steal moments of bliss in the bush, listening to lions calling in the night… feeling that in those moments, nature and Africa’s wildlife were at peace.”

We have had some tough times with our K9 team members this year, beginning early in the year, with Boerboel Hulk suffering a bee attack on his deployment at the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, which saw him undergoing emergency treatment and a blood transfusion to save his life. Our Sable Shepherd Torro underwent surgery twice this year, with stomach and bowel issues. We are happy to report that both Hulk and Torro have returned to full fitness and have resumed their normal duties. We thank everyone who helped with their treatment costs.

Sadly, we farewelled our legendary K9 Kovu, who lost his battle with cancer in August. Throughout his time with us, he protected hundreds of rhinos, lions and farmers. He will be forever in our hearts and minds. We miss you boy!

On a happier note, we welcomed our new Belgian Malinois Ava. She is a great addition to our team. We also continued with our German Shorthaired Pointer training, with mum Lexi’s first bite on the bite arm, and our GSPs visiting our headquarters as part of their training. In August, we welcomed an addition to the GSP team with our horse Blaze, sponsored to Pit-Track by Henk Kirchner. Blaze is helping us with training our GSP poacher tracking pack and Director Carl Thornton has been busy taking riding lessons from fellow Director Drew Abrahamson!

Legendary Kovu © Pit-Track

Carl & Blaze © Pit-Track

In late March, South Africa was unexpectedly plunged into lockdown. Our team was able to obtain travel permits under essential services and Carl and Drew quickly headed to Pit-Track’s Timbavati Headquarters to assist the teams on the ground. With the tourism industry shut down immediately, Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger area was, for the first time, empty of visitors with all lodges shut down.

Whilst this allowed nature and the environment to have a breather and regenerate, it fuelled illegal poaching. Without people around, and with limited staff on reserves, it opened up opportunities for poachers to move around without being seen. This meant extra work and pressure for our teams, as they undertook extensive perimeter searches and security, as well as intense training exercises for both our handlers and K9s.

Pit-Track Training © Pit-Track

We will strive to do everything we can to save our precious rhinos. The work that we do is not always easy, but it is always rewarding. One Team, One Dream. Never out of the fight.

Despite the extra workloads and stress, Drew and Carl were able to steal moments of bliss in the bush, listening to lions calling in the night, along with hyenas and jackals, in the symphony of the bush. They were able to experience moments of calmness and serenity in the place they feel most at home, feeling that in those moments, nature and Africa’s wildlife were at peace.

In these strange Covid-19 times, with masks becoming mandatory in various places around the world, we decided to have our own made up for our team and to help raise funds towards our work. Our special Pit-Track masks were made with our own unique camouflage pattern. We thank everyone who purchased our masks and contributed to our team.

We attended some special events in the middle of the year. Kings Camp Head Guide Grant Murphy’s Miles for Mammals fundraising marathon through the Greater Kruger area was inspiring to see. Grant ran his heart out to raise funds for our team and wildlife rehabilitation. Carl and Balloo even joined in the run for a short time. Our K9s were on hand to welcome Grant to the finish line, where he was gifted a range of gear from our sponsor Hi-Tec. We were so proud and humbled by Grant’s contribution to our team. What a man!

Grant & the Pit-Track Team at the end of Miles for Mammals © Kings Camp

We celebrated World Ranger Day at the end of July, spending the day at the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary. We were privileged to be able to support and pay tribute to the brave men and women who work tirelessly as rangers around the world to safeguard wildlife, people and the environment.

“We are proud of the huge amount of work we have done in such a short time and what we have achieved. We will do everything we can to protect our vulnerable wildlife.” – Carl Thornton

On 22 September 2020, we celebrated World Rhino Day.  Carl, Drew and one of our handlers, along with Balloo and Yanka, visited Laerskool Mariepskop as part of our Global Awareness and Education Initiative. We educated the kids on endangered species and explained the use of our K9s in anti-poaching demonstrations. It was a fun-filled morning and the kids were most interested in and intrigued by our work, asking many questions and showing a deep concern for our endangered wildlife. These educational days are particularly important to us, as we believe that the future of our wildlife is in the hands of our children. We thank them for making us feel so welcome.

Presentation at Laerskool Mariepskop © Pit-Track

We have recently had some special visitors to our teams on deployment. We had the privilege of welcoming Kennedy Zakeer, the President and Founder of the Council of Contributors, to our headquarters in the Timbavati.  Kennedy was able to observe our anti-poaching operations and meet members of our K9 and handler teams. She was particularly keen to catch up with the Council’s sponsored K9 Rex. The Council makes a huge contribution to our team, with Carl explaining that “we are forever grateful to Kennedy and the Council of Contributors for their support and for visiting us to see our work first-hand. It is such a blessing to have them on our team. Without them, our story would paint a very different picture”.

Kennedy & Rex © Council of Contributors

South African photographer and designer Victoria Paige visited our team to meet our K9s and handlers and help raise awareness about our work and the issues facing our wildlife. We thank her for her visit and for sharing our work with her large social media following.

Two of our biggest projects this year were the launch of our website and our Fund a K9 Sponsorship Program. We are especially proud of our website, which was built by the amazing team at Hammer Design: your brand. It will continue to be added to and updated, with blogs, news and further information. Our Fund a K9 program is off to a good start with various sponsorships for Calimero, Rex, Balloo, Misty, Koa and Hulk. “We thank everyone who has sponsored our K9s so far, and we look forward to welcoming more people on board with this exciting new initiative”, explains Carl. “The program provides vital funding for our anti-poaching K9 units and with the recent challenges we have faced, this support is really important to us.”

Last month, Carl began his weekly speaking spot on Ons Radio, which will help to educate and raise awareness about the poaching crisis and our teams on the ground. We are grateful to Ons Radio for this fantastic opportunity. We are sure Carl will be a hit because we all know how much he loves to talk!

Following a devastating increase in poaching in the Greater Kruger area, with the loss of eight rhinos, we secured a second deployment at the Avoca Gate to help combat this and close the gap in the vulnerable control points. This necessitated a huge amount of work, including building new predator-proof kennels and furthering intensive training. We are extremely grateful for all of the support and assistance we received to complete this work, particularly from the Council of Contributors and Protecting African Lions, who helped fund our new kennels.

Care for Wild Rangers with their Magnum Gear on World Ranger Day © Care for Wild

We began our second deployment at the start of October, which has been challenging but successful. Carl explains that “our teams are working incredibly hard to protect this vulnerable area and we are proud of the huge amount of work we have done in such a short time and what we have achieved. We are now controlling both gates into this area and we will do everything we can to protect our vulnerable wildlife”.

We have recently had the Braveheart Bio Dog Academy visit us at our new gate and view the work of our K9s as they search every vehicle going into and out of the reserve. It is always great to have them visit and see our K9s in action and we thank them for coming.

As we celebrate reaching the end of a very difficult year, we must also pause to remember that the year that’s passed is one year closer to the extinction of our national heritage.

This year we have again enjoyed the remarkable support of our sponsors, who help with the funds, supplies and equipment we need to continue our work. We thank all of our amazing sponsors, with Carl explaining that “we are so humbled by all of the support we receive from our incredible sponsors. We really couldn’t do this without you.  Your support allows our teams to continue our work on the ground in keeping our wildlife, K9s and warriors comfortable and safe. We are so blessed to receive so much support. It means so much to us to have all of you on our team.  One Team, One Dream”.

We make particular mention of Nutribyte and Supreme Pet for their nutritious food for our K9s, Crazee Dawg South Africa, Pet Bound Co, Julius-K9, War Dog Collars and Rogue Royalty for their equipment for our K9s, and MSD Animal Health and their incredible products Bravecto and Exspot, which help keep our K9s free of ticks, fleas and biting flies.

We give thanks to City Paws South Africa for helping to train and socialise our K9s, who always love their visits there. Rettet das Nashorn has helped us with kennels and his ongoing support of our General Calimero and Emerald City Pet Rescue has provided ongoing support for our handlers.

We also give thanks to Magnum Boots Africa and Hi-Tec for all of their support and assistance for both our team and for kitting out the entire Care for Wild Sanctuary Anti-Poaching Unit on World Ranger’s Day.

Care for Wild Rangers with their Magnum Gear on World Ranger Day © Care for Wild

We have also been blessed to welcome onboard new sponsors Eco Heat, Forever Kennels South Africa and Rebel Rifle Safe SA. We are so grateful to have you join our team!

Drew & Misty and Carl & Balloo with Gerhard & Son from Rebel Rifle Safe SA © Pit-Track

We also thank the team at 100 Prints for Nathan, who hosted an online auction of some special artwork to raise funds for our team and rhino conservation.

The team at African Pangolin Working Group has kindly provided us with some of their excess bags of dog food from their sponsor Hills, which have been given to our detection K9s in the Greater Kruger area. We thank Nicci Wright and Glen Thompson and the African Pangolin Working Group for their generosity. It is important for organisations to work together for the betterment of our wildlife, and this is a great example of that.

Glen Thompson of APWG with his donation & Pit-Track’s Handlers, Rex & Achillies © Pit-Track

This year, we have again had the services of our Australian Ambassador, Miranda Paech, from Victoria, Australia. Miranda works tirelessly to assist Drew and Carl with research, raising awareness, education, correspondence, social media and fundraising. She also looks after our Australian members and corporate sponsors, runs member events and fundraisers, and keeps busy with plans for future events and initiatives. Her and her husband Lyndsay are the proud sponsors of Rex.

This year, we welcomed our Blog Content Writer, Jane Alexander, from South Australia. Jane is a Pit-Track member and sponsor of Calimero, having seen him last year during her visit to the Timbavati. Jane is assisting us with writing blogs and newsletters, as well as providing support and assistance for other initiatives. Jane and Miranda have formed a formidable team in Australia and are working together to increase our support base and initiatives there. We also welcomed Suzette Mollentzé as our Head of Memberships. Suzette is also a Pit-Track member, who resides in KwaZulu-Natal. She has been a great help in streamlining our membership program and working on membership benefits, assisting with the Fund a K9 sponsorship initiative, and raising support and awareness on social media.

All three of these roles are voluntary, and we are immensely grateful for the time, care and effort that Miranda, Jane and Suzette have given us.  They form an important part of our team and allow us to concentrate on our work on the ground in the war against poaching.

“We are so humbled by all of the support we receive from our incredible sponsors.  It means so much to us to have all of you on our team. One Team, One Dream.” – Carl Thornton

As we celebrate reaching the end of a very difficult year, we must also pause to remember that the year that’s passed is one year closer to the extinction of our national heritage. Despite the huge amount of work being undertaken by organisations around the world, there is still more to be done to save our rhinos. The more time that passes, the more critical this work becomes. Carl expresses his gratitude, saying “We take this opportunity to thank all of the people working around the world to protect these special animals and all of the K9s and handlers on our Pit-Track team. Keep up the fight. You are warriors. Rhinos for our future!”.

White Rhinos – what we are striving to save © Pit-Track

The Pit-Track Team wishes all of our teammates, K9s, members, sponsors and supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends.  While many of you are enjoying the festive season, we ask that you spare a moment of thought and give thanks to our dedicated K9s and handlers, and all of the rangers around the world, who will be working on the ground throughout this time, away from their family and friends and the comforts of home.  These men and women are true warriors who give their all to save our precious animals and for that, we say THANK YOU!

We look forward to 2021 and to everyone’s support for the year ahead as we continue our work on the ground with our teams and K9s. We will strive to do everything we can to save our precious rhinos. The work that we do is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.  One Team, One Dream. Never out of the fight.

© Pit-Track