Flying Dogs – Join the fight against rhino poaching

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

South Africa Turns To New Breed Of Anti-Poaching Crime Fighters

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — Venom and Killer. These are members of a furry breed of anti-poaching operatives, dogs that can detect a whiff of hidden rhino horn in a suspect’s vehicle or follow the spoor of armed poachers in South Africa’s besieged wildlife parks.

Dogs are a small part of an increasingly desperate struggle to curb poaching in Africa, where tens of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered in recent years to meet a surging appetite for ivory in Asia, primarily China. In South Africa, poachers have killed more than 1,000 rhinos this year, surpassing the 2013 record. Countries and conservationists are trying more robust patrols and surveillance, community programs and other tactics against criminal gangs that sometimes benefit from official corruption.

As the conflict rages, elite dogs and handlers are drilling at an anti-poaching academy northwest of Johannesburg. The course prepares canine units to find firearms or contraband, track suspects in the undergrowth and abseil in harnesses from helicopters in pursuit of poachers. Dogs and handlers learn to trust each other and fine tune a relationship balancing control and aggression.

“One needs to be the dominant male. Hopefully, it’s the guy and not the dog,” said Marius van Heerden, a 28-year-old handler who lives, works and sleeps with Venom, a Belgian Malinois whose breed is known for endurance and athleticism and has been used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Venom probably got his name from biting trainers as a puppy, van Heerden said.

South Africa-based Paramount Group, which makes military vehicles and other equipment, runs the academy, which has about 50 adult dogs and the same number of puppies. Most are Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds.

Henry Holsthyzen, an academy leader, trained a Belgian Malinois called Killer who has been credited with anti-poaching successes in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Some 400 canine units are needed for the country’s wildlife parks, but only about 30 are operational, he said.

On a recent afternoon, several rangers from the central African country of Gabon lunged at each other in combat exercises at the academy.

“We need to focus our efforts where the need is greatest,” said Paramount chairman Ivor Ichikowitz, citing the slaughter of much of Gabon’s elephant population. He said poaching was more than a conservation issue because it funds insurgencies and other illegal activities across Africa.

Rhino horn fetches enormous sums on the illegal market. It is made of keratin, a substance also found in human fingernails. Some people covet it as a status symbol and a healing agent despite a lack of evidence that it can cure.

Conraad de Rosner, who runs another anti-poaching group called K9 Conservation, said poachers now worry about dogs. One poacher was caught with chili pepper, which he apparently thought would throw pursuing dogs off his scent, and rangers are concerned that poachers might try to poison dogs with contaminated meat, he said.

However, de Rosner said handlers were careful about letting dogs attack suspects with potentially lethal force, saying: “We are very reticent to release a dog to bite a suspect, just because of all the legal ramifications thereafter.”

Conservationists are using dogs elsewhere in Africa.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya has Belgian Malinois dogs that are a “piece of the jigsaw puzzle” of anti-poaching tactics but are not “a silver bullet,” said Richard Vigne, the conservancy’s chief executive officer. At the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Congo, two Belgian Malinois were deployed in a successful trial to detect ivory and illegally obtained wildlife meat in bags and suitcases, according to African Parks, a Johannesburg-based group that jointly runs the park with the Congolese government.

The bond between dog and ranger is vital, said Holsthyzen, the South African trainer, recalling a student’s mistake.

“He gave his dog to someone else to go and put in the kennels,” Holsthyzen said. “And my immediate question was, ‘Would you have another person sleep with your wife?'”