It is clear that those who actively oppose rhino poaching need all the help they can get. Over the last three years, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and Paramount Group have become increasingly involved in the fi ght against rhino poaching. In November 2014, Paramount unveiled its academy in Magaliesberg, which specialises in training conservation offi cers and anti-poaching dogs.
“The last few years of involvement in the war against poaching have taught us that there is not a better solution than well-trained boots on the ground, to effectively combat the wave of poachers that continue to fl ood into national parks across the continent,” said Eric Ichikowitz, director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation. “Conservation offi cers have to be up-skilled and provided with the necessary training and support in order to effectively combat the increased levels of poaching that are taking place. All the technology in the world is ineffective if one does not have well-trained anti-poaching units on the ground to back it up.”
Ichikowitz added that those units, equipped with trained dogs, have proven to be highly effective in tracking down poachers, ultimately leading to effective apprehensions. He also said that they were seeing: “great results in placing detection dogs at strategic access points where smugglers are moving contraband across borders.”
Paramount’s training facility, known as Paramount K9 Solutions, is located in the 1200 ha Battle Creek game reserve in the Magaliesberg region. It was previously the site of an Anglo-Boer War battle, before it became the private hunting grounds of former state president Paul Kruger. The training facility is dedicated to training dogs for a variety of detection, patrolling and anti-poaching missions. Paramount also uses the game reserve to experiment with new anti-poaching methods, such as using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and dogs in the same missions. At the moment, more than fifty adult dogs, mostly Malinois and German Shepherds, are being trained by Paramount K9 Solutions personnel, whilst many more puppies are being prepared for a life of service. Of course, dogs do not operate on their own. The facility provides training for up to twenty specialist rangers per course. Each of these anti-poaching officers is paired with a dog and given training in a variety of anti-poaching duties. The course, during which rangers and dogs bond and learn to work as a team, lasts about ten weeks.
During the unveiling of the training facility, members of the media could see rangers practising hand-to-hand combat and taking part in target practice with rifles. Rangers and dogs in ghillie suits (camouflage clothing that resembles foliage) demonstrated how to ambush and apprehend poachers on land and in water. The most spectacular demonstration of skills took place when a Gazelle helicopter hovered low over a dam. Two dogs and handlers jumped into the water and intercepted a ‘poacher’ in the middle of the dam. During a subsequent demonstration, a dog and handler could be seen rappelling from a Gazelle. Upon reaching the ground, the dog named Venom, immediately intercepted and apprehended a ‘poacher’. In the words of Ichikowitz, “training protocols have been developed through experience gained in operational environments, working in close conjunction with the Kruger Park’s special operations units.”
So far, about 25 of these dogs have entered service in Africa. Paramount has provided training to rangers from several of the continent’s major game reserves and national parks and maintains a close working relationship with SANParks, Stop Rhino Poaching and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Text and photography by Divan Muller
African Pilot – Serious about Flying | January 2015 Volume 14 No.1