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Tag: africa

Dogs help heal wounds in war-torn Uganda


Eleven years after a civil war in Uganda, many are still coping with the scars it left — inside and out — and some are finding that a dog can help them do that.

That was the case with Francis Okello Oloya, who in 2015 started The Comfort Dog Project to help people in Gulu town, especially those who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

At age 12, Okello was blinded by a bomb blast as he worked in the family garden. At a boarding school for the blind, Okello found it difficult to find the toilet at night.

“I had to navigate my way from the sleeping quarter to latrine and that was not easy,” he told the Voice of America. “And these dogs came to know that I needed help. And they began the practice of helping me from the sleeping quarters to the latrine.”

Now 29, he’s in charge of a program that matches street dogs with war’s victims, providing comfort to those victims, homes for those street mutts, and adding to a growing recognition in Uganda of what dogs are capable of.

Traditionally, dogs have mainly been used for hunting in Uganda, or for security.

The Comfort Dog Project is an offshoot of Big Fix Uganda, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of dogs and people in the impoverished and war-torn country.

As explained on the Comfort Dogs website, dogs in need of homes are rehabilitated by a team of trainers, temperament tested and spayed/neutered. They are then placed with war trauma survivors who agree to care for the dog for its lifetime and go through a week of training.

uganda2After graduating, the dog-guardian teams become project ambassadors — visiting villages and schools to
educate others about the importance of being kind to animals, teach them to use positive reinforcement training techniques and “serve as testimony of the healing power of human-dog bonds.”

In the aftermath of the civil war in Uganda, tens of thousands of people still struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health practitioners estimate that seven in 10 people in Northern Uganda were traumatically affected.

Philda Akum, 35, is one of the 29 beneficiaries of the project, Voice of America reports.

In 1997, she and her four brothers were abducted by those rebelling against the government and taken to Sudan.

One brother was captured and killed, Akum says. Another brother was selected to go to the battlefront and was fatally shot. Two days later, her youngest brother contracted cholera and died.

She returned home and joined group therapy, which is what led her to be assigned a dog.

The Big Fix operates the only veterinary hospital in northern Uganda and works to achieve a sustainable population of dogs and cats and control the spread of rabies and other diseases.

(Photo: Francis Okello Oloya, founder of The Comfort Dog Project, with Binongo; Philda Akum, a former war victim, with her dog; by H. Athumani, Voice of America)

Look, up in the sky, it’s … it’s … it’s … skydiving anti-poaching dog!

If the ranks of specialized crime-fighting canines seem to be reaching new heights, well, they are.

Drug-sniffing dogs, bomb-detecting dogs, and even “porn dogs” are all already on duty, but there’s a new incarnation of crime fighting dog hovering on the horizon, and it may be most super-hero-like yet:

Skydiving anti-poaching dogs.

To help crackdown on the epidemic of ivory poaching in Africa, dogs are now being trained to parachute (with their handlers) from helicopters, track and take down poachers.

skydivingdogarrowArrow, the two-year-old Belgian Malinois shown in the photo to the left, hasn’t gone out on an actual mission yet.

But he and a six-year-old German shepherd named Giant, featured in the video above, are being trained for the task at the Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy, according to NationalGeographic.com

It’s run by Paramount Group, a defense contractor based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The academy’s canines, which are bred at the facility, are trained and matched with rangers from national parks and game reserves across Africa.

Dogs have been skydiving for a while now (remember the one on the Navy Seal mission that took down Osama bin Laden?). But that’s only half of this job.

Once on the ground, the dogs — much faster and better at tracking than humans — are released to pursue the poachers and bring them down before they vanish into the bush.

Both dogs have already mastered descending from a helicopter by rope, strapped to their handler, but parachuting gets them to the ground more quickly, and decreases the likelihood of the poachers being scared off by the noise of the helicopter.

An estimated 100 elephants a day are gunned down by poachers who saw off their tusks. About a thousand rhinos were killed last year by poachers who harvested their horns.

Africa’s parks are far too vast to be patrolled effectively, allowing the poachers to operate almost with impunity.

Dogs, as is often the case in war and crime-fighting, were seen as effective strategy. Flying dogs? Even better.

The risks (to the dogs) is high. Fleeing poachers could easily train their high powered rifles on the dog pursuing them. Having a drone chase them down, maybe one that could fire tranquilizer darts at the poachers, would seem to make more sense. But then again drones don’t have dog noses.

Eric Ichikowitz, director of the Johannesburg-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which helped launch the training program, says the dogs seem to like the chase, getting excited when they hear the roar of a helicopter.

“The dogs are exceptionally comfortable with skydiving,” he says.
“They know they’re going to work.”

(Photo: National Geographic)

Researchers say they found birthplace of dog

firstdogs

A team of Swedish and Chinese researchers say they have pinpointed — at least more than it has been pinpointed up to now — the place where, 16,000 years ago, the wolf was tamed and evolved into the dog.

It was in China, on the southern shores of the Yangtze River, they say.

Their findings are contained in an article in the latest issue of scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

“For the first time … it is possible to provide a detailed picture of the dog, with its birthplace, point in time, and how many wolves were tamed,” says Peter Savolainen, a biologist and member of the research team at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

Together with Swedish colleagues and a Chinese research team, Savolainen has made a number of new discoveries about the history of the dog — including the most specific date and birthplace yet offered.

“Our earlier findings from 2002 have not been fully accepted, but with our new data there will be greater acceptance. The picture provides much more detail,” says Savolainen.

Savolainen said the research indicates that the dog has a single geographic origin but descends from a large “large number of animals – at least several hundred tamed wolves, probable even more,” according to Science Daily.

The theory that the domestic dog originated in East Asia was challenged earlier this month by an international group of researchers who say African dogs are just as genetically diverse.

That research, based on analyzing blood samples from dogs in Egypt, Uganda and Namibia, shows the DNA of dogs in African villages is just as varied, indicating it could have been where wolves made the transition to become dogs.

(Photo: Science Daily press release)

Theory on origin of domestic dogs challenged

The theory that the domestic dog originated in East Asia has been challenged by an international group of researchers who say African dogs are just as genetically diverse.

The huge genetic diversity of dogs found in East Asia had led many scientists to conclude that it was where the domestication of the dog began.

But newly published research, based on analyzing blood samples from dogs in Egypt, Uganda and Namibia, shows the DNA of dogs in African villages is just as varied, according to the New York Times.

The research was originally aimed at tracking down a newly discovered “small gene” that led to wolves being downsized in their transition to dogs. Instead, as reported in the current issue of  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found information they say calls into question where wolves were first domesticated.

Lead scientist, Adam Boyko of the Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology at Cornell University, says he decided to look at village dogs at least partly because his brother, an anthropologist as the University of California-Davis, was head there on a honeymoon. Also there are more mutts there — dogs more genetically diverse than bred dogs.

It’s the mutts that may hold the key to the learning the origins of dog domestication.

Read more »

Guard dogs protect sheep, save cheetah

Guard dogs that protect sheep and goats on African farms from attacks by cheetahs and leopards are also helping out the cheetahs and leopards.

With their livestock safe from attack, farmers no longer feel the need to hunt or poison cheetahs and leopards, according to a BBC report.

Anatolian Kangal dogs are used in the program, started in Namibia and recently launched in Kenya.

“We have had amazing results,” Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund said.  “Since the dogs were imported, the cheetah population had increased by a third.” 

Anatolian Kangal dogs are extremely loyal and are ready to fight to the death. The puppies are given to farmers when they are just eight weeks old and grow up with the flocks of goats and sheep they are to guard in order to bond with them.

If a predator approaches, the dogs bark loudly and the flock gathers round them. For most predators, the barking alone is enough to keep them from approaching.

The Conservation Trust began importing the Kangal from Turkey in 1994 and since then has provided around 300 dogs to farmers.

Dogs used as shark bait on island off Africa

Dogs — live and dead — are being used as shark bait on the French-controlled island of Reunion,  National Geographic reports.

The small volcanic island off Africa’s east coast is loaded with stray dogs — more than 150,000, says Reha Hutin, president of the Paris-based Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis (the Thirty Million Friends Foundation).

Hutin sent a film crew to Reunion this summer to obtain proof that live animals were being used as shark bait. (The photo above is a video still from that filming.) The practice was first exposed on the animal rights group’s weekly television show.

A videotape and photographs show the dogs with multiple hooks sunk deep into their paws and snouts. Cats are also being used as bait, according to the organization.

“From then on everyone started to take the whole story seriously and realized it was true,” Hutin said.

A veterinarian successfully treated one of the canines, a six-month-old dog with a large fishhook through its snout at an SPA (Animal Protective Society) clinic in Reunion’s capital, St. Denis.

Unlike most of the hooked animals, the dog was someone’s pet, according to Saliha Hadj-Djilani, a reporter for the Thirty Million Friends Foundation’s TV program. The dog had apparently escaped its captors and was taken to the SPA by a concerned citizen. Fully recovered, the animal is now home with its owners.

The other two cases uncovered by Thirty Million Friends were strays. They now live in France with new owners.

The foundation plans to finance a sterilization program on the island to reduce the stray overpopulation.

Hutin said many locals view the strays as vermin. “There’s no value to the life of a dog there,” she said.

(Photo courtesy of Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis)