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  • Julia de Beer


Guests arriving at the Avoca Gate on their way to the Thornybush River Lodge will meet three incredibly special canines, Calimero, Elly or Yanka who have the most important job of all!

The Pit-Track team are responsible for checking that no person of ill-intent enters or leaves the Association of Private Nature Reserves and Greater Kruger area through the busy gate.

The formidable squad currently consists of three handlers and two permanent K9s who are specifically trained in contraband detection. They are constantly on the lookout for rhino horn, ivory, pangolin, bush meat, weapons, as well as both expelled and un-expelled cartridges.

A further handler and K9 are on standby 24/7 and will be deployed should the need arise.

Calimero, affectionately known as Cali was trained by Perdita and Ralph Lübbe-Scheuermann in Germany and arrived on South African soil from his native land some years ago. He is the longest serving member of t

he K9 detection unit. He never fails to make his presence felt, always giving off a bark with his nose pointing skyward, which has earned him the reputation as the undisputed ‘General’ of the K9 pack!

Elly is a 5-year-old female German Shepherd, going by the nickname of ‘Princess’ due to her extremely precise and controlled searches. Visitors to the gate may notice her back-tracking once her examination is complete, just to make extra sure that she has covered all her bases. Princess Elly asks for a little patience whilst she satisfies her own doggy mind.

The four-year-old Rottweiler, Yanka performs patrol and protection functions moving between both the Enkhulu and Avoka gates. She is currently busy with her contraband detection training, as well as her human tracking accreditation, so is a great all-rounder.

Leading the handling team at Avoka is the very experienced Bongani Ntuli, who is ably backed up by Herman Mashaba and Olga Matheere. This hard-working trio have devoted their lives to helping protect Africa’s wildlife and their guest-ready smiles defy some of the horror stories that they have endured in their roles as anti-poaching rangers.

The K9s are non-aggressive as all their training is play and toy imprinted. After a successful search, you might notice the K9 enjoying a reward with a toy. All visitors passing through the gate, however, are asked to remember that they are highly trained working K9s who are very focused on their job. “They may appear very friendly, but they are not normal household dogs and should not be approached without clearance from their handlers,” warns Drew Abrahamson, one of the directors of Pit-Track.

The Pit-Track K9 team love engaging in conversation about their K9’s or other wildlife related issues, and guests are more than welcome to bring any concerns to their attention. They can be contacted on |

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