Dog Led Rescuers to Missing Kids. Now They Search for Him

If Wilson is still alive in Amazon, Colombian soldiers hope to lure him with female dogs, food
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2023 10:35 AM CDT
Dog Led Rescuers to Missing Kids. Now They Search for Him
A handler holds his Belgian shepherd at a Colombian Army training facility in Bogota on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

With his powerful snout and his pointy ears, Wilson became a national hero in Colombia when he helped the military find four Indigenous children who survived a plane crash and were lost in the Amazon jungle for 40 days. Paw prints from the military-trained search dog led trackers to the children earlier this month. But the Belgian shepherd went missing during the search and is now himself the target of a sophisticated rescue operation that started soon after the four young survivors where flown on a helicopter to Bogota. The Colombian military says it has left 70 soldiers in the dense swath of jungle around the crash site to look for its beloved search dog. And commanders have vowed not to leave the remote area until soldiers return home with the star pup.

It's been a month since Wilson got lost in the rainforest, and it's hard to know if the 2-year-old dog is still alive. But the sniffer dog's rescue would lift the spirits of many Colombians, as well as add a heartwarming exclamation point to a survival story that already has captivated the world. Wilson joined Colombia's special forces after graduating from a canine academy in February. He and four more sniffer dogs were taken to the rainforest in May to find the single-engine Cessna plane that had crashed in the rainforest, carrying the four children and three adults who later were found dead. When the small plane was found and the search party realized the children could still be alive, Wilson's handler gave him some clothes to sniff in order to help him track down the kids.

The sniffer dog got separated form the search party on May 18 after he sped off into the forest following a scent. Ten days later, the military found footprints of the children next to his paw prints. Those clues helped them to get closer to the area where the children were found on June 9, said Gen. Pedro Sanchez, who led the rescue effort. "The children spoke to us and confirmed that the dog was with them for two or three days," Sanchez told Colombia's W Radio. The children are still recovering in the hospital and haven't spoken to the press. But recently, 13 year-old Lesly Mucutuy, who's the oldest child in the group, drew a picture of the rainforest that included a black-and-coffee-colored dog, which looks like Wilson.

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Last week, Colombia's military said that it helicoptered two female dogs in heat to the area around the crash site, in the hopes of luring Wilson toward the search party. Food has also been placed for the dog at several points around the crash site, as well as clothes belonging to his handler, with the hope that their scent can guide Wilson back to safety. But some experts believe that Wilson may have already perished in the rainforest, where a dog might struggle to find food and also risks attacks from poisonous snakes. "It's a tough situation," said Mark Lee, a Colombian dog trainer and radio host. "I don't see a Belgian Malinois eating fruits and leaves in the forest, or trying to catch an animal to survive. And I wouldn't see that in a dog that is used to having his food in his bowl, at regular hours." (More Colombia stories.)

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