Waging war on the poaching trade: Hero DOGS skydiving 7,500ft out of helicopters into danger zones to snare hunters slaughtering elephants and rhinos in the African bush
Conservationists waging war on the multi-million pound poaching trade have employed a new breed of operatives to help them catch criminals.
Equipped with goggles, harnesses, muzzles and earmuffs, dogs are being trained to skydive from 7,500ft into danger zones and snare poachers.
Giant, Killer, Venom, Arrow and Alpha are highly-skilled and fearless members of the Paramount Group Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy in South Africa.
Described by their trainers as ‘the Bear Grylls of the K9 world’, Arrow the German Shepherd became the first dog to skydive – earning him a place in the Guinness World Records – while Belgian Malinois Killer has snared 115 groups of poachers and received a Gold medal from Prince Harry for his contribution to conservation.
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Alpha the German Shepherd dons his protective eye and footwear ahead of missions which see him leap out of helicopters
Dog handler Henry and Arrow the dog – wearing his protective goggles and muzzle – landing safely after another successful sky dive
A dog handler and their K9 in their Ghillie suits which the handler has to make themselves as part of the training, for camouflage and ambush purposes
A spokesman for the academy told MailOnline: ‘The most critical element for a successful dog and handler is the bond between the two.
‘The bond is critical and you cannot break it.
‘Only highly driven dogs with an exceptional attitude, mindset and passion to please (their handlers) can be used for activities like rappelling and sky diving.’
Poaching is a lucrative and ever-growing industry run by highly-organised criminal networks.
The last seven years have seen the elephant population fall by almost a third – with 100 killed every single day for their ivory.
Rhino poaching has reached epidemic proportions with around 1200 rhinos being killed in 2014 and 2015 in South Africa alone.
So conservationists are fighting back and taking increasingly drastic measures to counteract illegal poaching.
Poaching hotspots are often in remote locations or dense bush and the dogs’ skydiving skills enable them to reach areas quickly and track skilled poachers using advanced counter-tracking techniques.
The dogs are capable of searching large areas for snares, bush meat and firearms and are able to hunt at night when human trackers are unable to track due to limited visibility.
Arrow, a German Shepherd dog specially trained to combat Africa’s poaching crisis, has been recognized as the world’s first sky-diving anti-poaching dog by Guinness World Records
Two-year-old Arrow made his maiden jump with handler Henry Holsthyzen of Paramount Group’s Anti-Poaching and K9 Academy based in Rustenburg, South Africa
The dogs are taught to parachute out of helicopters and into danger zones in a bid to stamp out illegal poaching
Alpha is part of the team of hero hounds leaping from helicopters along with their trainers in a bid to tackle illegal poachers
Skydiving has become an important addition to the arsenal of anti-poaching methods, especially useful as a rapid response in remote and inaccessible areas
Arrow and Henry with their Guinness World Record: The trainers said, ‘You need an expert eye, someone with ‘dog whisperer’ capabilities and decades of working and training dogs to ensure you get it right’
Arrow and Giant ‘go mad with excitement’ when they are shown their jump harnesses and cannot wait to get into the helicopter
A simulation of a poacher apprehension show how the dogs and their handlers – both wearing Ghillie camouflage suits hand made by each park ranger/dog handler – hide in the bush as the poachers walk straight into their ambush
Poachers, look out: Several dogs from the unit and their handlers practice doing bite work training
The two most commonly used breeds in conservation are Bloodhounds and Belgium Malinois.
While Bloodhounds are used to track scents older than 24 hours, the Malinois is used as a rapid reaction and a ‘multi-purpose’ K9, capable of tracking and searching for ammunition, rhino horns and ivory, and for arresting suspects.
The academy breeds the dogs before gauging their personality and matching them to suitable roles – from tracking to skydiving.
The academy spokesman added: ‘You need an expert eye, someone with ‘dog whisperer’ capabilities and decades of working and training dogs to ensure you get it right.
‘Not all dogs are good at tracking, not all dogs are excited by the sight of a helicopter.
‘In Arrow and Giant’s case they go mad with excitement if you only show them their jump harnesses. They cannot wait to get into the helicopter.
‘You can tell by their reaction that they are keen and willing, and when you see them in action you can tell that they excel at it.’
Dogs are bred by the academy and their personality gauged at an early age – to find out whether they would be suited to tracking, or jumping from helicopters
‘The Bear Grylls’ of the K9 world’: Working alongside their trainers, the dogs are waging war on elephant and rhino poachers
A poacher is apprehended by a K9 with its handler while other members of the K9 units in hot pursuit
Reaching new heights: Venom and his handler can be seen rappeling from a Gazelle helicopter
A handler and a dog prepare to disembark a helicopter in a dam – and thanks to the dogs incredible senses, poachers in remote areas will be quickly apprehended
The rapid response anti-poaching unit using a helicopter to drop dog units into a dam and follow a poacher
Skydiving has become an important addition to the arsenal of anti-poaching methods, especially useful as a rapid response in remote and inaccessible areas.
Initially met with some resistance from those who failed to see dogs useful in the war against poachers, the first K9 was introduced to Kruger National Park in South Africa in December 2010 to help fight poaching.
Now almost all big reserves have a K9 unit assisting their anti-poaching units (APU) and since the launch of Paramount Group’s Anti-Poaching and K9 Academy there has been a rise in national parks and private reserves establishing K9 units in parks across Africa.
And in another shot to the arm of the group, Arrow the German Shepherd dog has been recognised as the world’s first sky-diving anti-poaching dog by Guinness World Records.
Two-year-old Arrow made his maiden jump with handler Henry Holsthyzen at the Waterkloof Airforce Base on the outskirts of Pretoria.
Arrow was specially selected as a puppy for his temperament and trained to descend from a helicopter by rope, strapped to Holsthyzen, and finally, to skydive.
As soon as Arrow touches down from the skydive his handler releases him from his jump harness and Arrow is immediately on the spoor of the poacher
The team of German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois dogs are highly trained in tracking – and taking down – poachers hiding in the bush
The Paramount group showcases an integrated anti-poaching operation involving helicopters, ground vehicles and K9 units
Arrow’s entry to the Guinness World Records came after months of intense preparation. Since Arrow was a puppy he and Holsthyzen have eaten, slept, and worked together in order to develop the inseparable bond needed to carry out high-pressure anti-poaching tasks together.
Holsthyzen said: ‘With my knowledge of Arrow – knowing him, and knowing his personality – it gave me a very good idea of what to expect and he acted accordingly. He’s a natural born skydiver and an adrenaline junkie – I was more scared than he was!
‘I jumped out of the helicopter and it was just natural for him to follow me. I rely on him and in turn he relies on me. I’m willing to go into battle with him because I trust him. Trust forms the basis of our relationship and that enables the handler and the K9 relationship to excel’.
Eric Ichikowitz, Director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation added: ‘In some cases we have to insert the canine into a difficult situation with the poachers or a challenging environment, such as a forest or mountainous regions. The parachute helps engage them quietly.
‘At any one stage we have a large number of K9’s at various stages of development enabling us to develop on each K9’s unique capabilities as identified and tracked from infancy through adolescence. The large pool enables us to select optimal pairings between handlers and dogs, and to experiment with combinations.
‘The training protocols have been developed through experience gained in operational environments, working in close conjunction with a number of National Parks special operations units. The training school is a custom developed anti-poaching facility developed to train anti-poaching rangers into specialised K9 handlers and to engage the handlers in the protocols of working with dogs in a wildlife environment’.