Paramount unveils canine training school

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The Paramount Group yesterday showcased its dog school for the first time, which trains tracker/sniffer dogs and their handlers for anti-poaching operations, especially for the protection of rhinos in the Kruger National Park.

The Anti-Poaching Skills and K9 Training Academy is located outside Magaliesberg on the 1 200 hectare Duikerbult/Battle Creek farm. The land, originally Paul Kruger’s private hunting grounds, was provided to Paramount by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which are working together to combat wildlife poaching – Paramount has donated several aircraft, including a Seabird Seeker and Gazelle helicopter – to combat poaching in the Kruger National Park.

Erik Ichikowitz, director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, said that over the last three years it became blatantly obvious that counter poaching forces needed to be upskilled with specialised training. Paramount realised that a man and dog solution was one of the best ways to combat poachers and as a result the Anti-Poaching Training Academy was established.

The Academy provides anti-poaching reaction unit training, training of handlers and detection dogs for deployment at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers and training special operations dogs for rapid deployment teams.

At the moment 50-60 adult dogs are at the facility and these are primarily Belgian Shepherd dogs (Malinois), but the Academy also has German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Bloodhounds. There are also 48 puppies at the school. The Malinois were chosen for their sensitive noses, long endurance and ability to operate in extreme temperatures – they have successfully operated in Afghanistan and Iraq. Training a dog costs around R130 000 while it costs around R47 000 a year to maintain a working dog.

In addition to the canines, the facility provides training for up to 20 specialist rangers per training course. As a canine solution is a 50:50 partnership between dog and handler, Paramount places a big focus on training the handlers, who learn basic hand to hand combat skills, how to handle firearms, how to make their own ghillie suits etc..

During the open day on Wednesday, Paramount put its dogs and their handlers through their paces, with some impressive demonstrations. The dogs were initially tasked with finding rhino horn shavings and a firearm hidden in a couple of vehicles. They then attacked a ‘poacher’ they had observed while camouflaged in the bushes with their handlers. To prove the dogs can operate under any conditions, they chased several ‘poachers’ into a dam and swam after them until they were caught.

The most impressive and innovative demonstration came with a Gazelle helicopter. The dogs and their handlers were loaded aboard and then swooped low over the trees to respond to a ‘poacher’ in the water. The Gazelle hovered over the dam while dogs and handlers leapt out and swam towards their targets. After nabbing the poachers, the dogs and handlers were loaded up on the helicopter for the next demonstration, which consisted of dog and handler rappelling out of the hovering helicopter. Paramount said it had pioneered this rapid deployment method as a way of getting its assets into thick bush and other difficult terrain and that such deployment techniques were essential to successful counter poaching operations.

Paramount’s dogs have been deployed to the Kruger National Park from late last year and used to monitor entry and egress points. Ichikowitz said that after two weeks of sniffing vehicles that were coming and going, the dogs found three rhino horns hidden in a car.

There are around ten dogs currently deployed to the Kruger and another ten in three different African countries. Another eight will be deployed to the Kruger soon. Erik said he would like to have 50 dogs in the Kruger and believes there is demand for 400 canine solutions (dogs and handlers) over the next five years.

Paramount said the programme has already provided training for game rangers from a number of leading game reserves and national parks across the country, and from the continent. The parks and game reserves include Addo Elephant National Park, Timbavati, Marikele, Loskop/Manyeleti and Gabon National Parks. The programme also partners with SANParks, Stop Rhino Poaching and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Ichikowitz said that at the moment military dogs are not on the horizon due to so much demand for conservation dogs, but military dogs are a possibly something the company will look at in the near future.
2014 is set to be one of the worst years for rhino poaching on record. Over 1 000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since the beginning of this year, while around 340 arrests have been made.

Ivor Ichikowitz Chairman of Paramount Group, said that, “Poaching is not just a South African issue and as critical as our efforts are to save the rhino, there is a an equal urgency in western and Eastern Africa to prevent another catastrophe. With more than 30,000 elephants slaughtered every year, Africa is in the perilous position to loose two of our most iconic animals forever. The reality is that poaching is simply no longer solely a conservation issue. Poaching threatens the security and progress of the whole continent as it funds terrorism, insurgents, criminal cartels, human and drug trafficking. Like blood diamonds and drugs, ivory and rhino horn is the new cash for criminals.
 
“Our efforts therefore have to be continent-wide. The forests of Western Africa where elephant populations are severely threatened will be the next frontier where we want to deploy the skills and experience of our anti-poaching and dog academy. Conservationists say that at least half of Gabon’s elephant population has been slaughtered. It therefore make sense that we are training rangers from Gabon as we need to focus our efforts where the need is the greatest.”

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