Guinness World Records has recognised a German Shepherd called Arrow as the world’s first skydiving anti-poaching dog.
Arrow is one of nearly 200 other specially bred and trained dogs from the Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy run by Paramount Group. The two-year-old Arrow made his maiden jump with Paramount canine handler Henry Holsthyzen at Air Force Base Waterkloof. Paramount on Monday said 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.
The Guinness World Records certificate states that, “The first sky-diving anti-poaching dog is Arrow the German shepherd, who made his maiden jump with handler Henry Holsthyzen on the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa, on 17 September 2016.”
Skydiving dogs are nothing new, with a surprisingly large number of civilian skydivers taking their dogs on tandem jumps. Dogs have been skydiving in the military for many years – the Spanish Army pioneered a tandem parachute for dog and handler several years ago, while the US Army was parachuting dogs during the Second World War and the US military continues to do so. However, this is the first time skydiving dogs have been used for anti-poaching duties.
“Arrow’s entry to the Guinness World Records family comes after much preparation. His skydiving expertise hinges on his close relationship with his handler. Since Arrow was a puppy the two have eaten, slept, and worked together in order to develop the inseparable bond needed to carry out high-pressure anti-poaching tasks together,” Paramount 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!,” Holsthyzen said.
“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 canine relationship to excel”.
Paramount unveiled its Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy in November 2014, at which time it had just under 50 adult dogs, primarily Belgian Shepherd dogs (Malinois), but the Academy also has German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Bloodhounds. 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.
The dogs are mainly being trained for anti-poaching operations, and are thus able to track poachers, attack them if necessary and sniff out evidence such as rhino horn and spent cartridges.
The Academy does not just train dogs but conservation officers as well. 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, camouflage and ambush techniques etc.
“Its solutions include specialised anti-poaching reaction unit training, training of handlers and detection dogs at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers, as well as training special operation dogs like Arrow for rapid deployment teams,” Paramount said.
The Paramount Anti-Poaching and Canine Academy works in partnership with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and Paramount Group in anti-poaching initiatives. Eric Ichikowitz, Director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation said that, “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”.
Paramount dogs have been deployed to the Kruger National Park and reserves across Africa as well as private reserves in South Africa. Gabon recently announced its acquisition of Paramount dogs to combat elephant poaching.
Some of the parks and game reserves that Paramount has provided training for include Addo Elephant National Park, Timbavati, Marikele, Loskop/Manyeleti and Gabon National Parks. The programme also partners with SANParks, Unite Against Poaching and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.