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13 March 2012 at 10:59 - Posted by Anonymous

Canines helping to clean up the trails


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Patrols make David and Kristina Schumacher feel safer on Table mountain. Photo: Neil Baynes

Dog patrols on Table Mountain have helped bring down the number of attacks but the dogs often put their lives on the line.

In 2005, patrol dog Fury was in the news when he was bitten by a puffadder while on duty. He was lucky to survive and continued working until his retirement last year.

Baxter and Esko are two of about 10 dogs working up to eight hours a day with their handlers in the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).

A Cape Argus team accompanied section ranger Craig Adams, from the Visitor Safety Unit, to Devil’s Peak to get a glimpse of what it takes to keep tourists, hikers, cyclists and joggers relatively safe.

Adams has been working as a ranger since 2009 after being in the military and said patrolling the mountain was a similar line of work.

He said that apart from looking out for criminals, who use the mountain as a hideout, ready to pounce on hikers, rangers also occasionally arrest people collecting plants used for medicinal purposes.

Besides normal patrolling, the rangers also do operations with the mountain rescue unit.

“We get dehydration calls – people who need rescuing are those who stray from the hiking paths or get lost by not hiking in groups,” said Adams.

The rangers and their dogs are tasked with patrolling hotspots, including Rhodes Memorial, one of the many areas where attacks have taken place in recent months.

While on the mountain, a SANParks patrol vehicle arrives with Baxter and Esko, accompanied by their handlers, rangers Paul Albertus and Ntsikelelo Sofute.

Both men said they loved their work. Albertus, who has been working at the park for eight months as a dog handler, said: “It gives me something to look forward to when I get up in the morning. Even when you are feeling down your spirit is lifted when you are on the mountain.”

The Cape Argus asked two hikers whether they felt safer with mountain patrols in the area.

Kristina Schumacher said that she now carries mace spray after spotting suspicious people on an earlier trip.

Husband David Schumacher said the patrols by mountain rangers made them feel safer.

“But I would suggest SANParks put up more signage on trails giving the time it would take, distance and where it is going. For instance, if you want to go to Rhodes Memorial and there is no signage you can get lost.”

joseph.booysen@inl.co.za - Cape Argus

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