SAAF pays tribute to first bird control dog


The South African Air Force (SAAF) has paid to Sergeant Frost, its first bird control dog, who kept birds away from the runways of Air Force Base Waterkloof for years.

Sgt Frost was a border collie who was first placed at the Environmental Services Section at Air Force Base Swartkop on 20 July 2009 where an Integrated Environmentally Habitat Management pilot project was implemented. The outcome of the newly introduced project would determine the future on how bird control would be managed at Air Force Bases, reports SA Soldier magazine.

Using dogs to control birds and prevent bird strikes on aircraft came about after numerous other methods were tried and tested with only partial success to reduce the bird population at Air Force Bases.

Dr Nicholas Carter, owner of Bird Strike Control Programme and the President of the Central and South American Bird Strike Committee, visited AFB Waterkloof in 2000 to introduce the SAAF to the Bird Control Programme. Dr Carter introduced an interesting concept in which dogs were trained to reduce the risk of bird strikes on runways. Dogs (especially border collies) serve as an effective means of wildlife control in these environments by introducing a predator into the ecosystem, reports SA Soldier.

Many wildlife dispersal methods seek to imitate predators or the effect of predators and become increasingly ineffective as wildlife become accustomed to the stimuli. However, border collies are true predators, representing an actual, not perceived, threat to wildlife thereby eliminating the problems of wildlife becoming accustomed to imitations.

Sgt Frost was trained by Philip and Pippa Andrews, dog breeders and trainers from Caledon, in the Overberg region of the Western Cape. Sgt Frost, with guidance, conducted regular patrols from early morning till late afternoon at AFB Swartkop, even during air shows. Sgt Frost’s main task was to discourage birds from settling near the active runway. These patrols in essence forced the birds to naturally stay in a safe zone out of harm’s way.

In 2011 Sgt Frost was transferred to AFB Waterkloof where WO2 Coert Theron was her handler and worked continuously with her. Sgt Frost became part of the Environmental Services Section, where she was a member of the SAAF, and accompanied human personnel to seminars, courses and even SA Air Force Headquarters (SAAF HQ).

Sgt Frost passed away on Tuesday 7 July 2020 at the age of 13 years. “Being the first Bird Control Dog for the Air Force she set the standard on how this project can go forward hoping that in the near future SAAF will able to procure a new Bird Control Dog,” SA Soldier reported.

Bird control dogs are also deployed at South Africa’s commercial airports. The Endangered Wildlife Trust, which provided input on bird control dogs to the SAAF, has been implementing and monitoring bird control dogs at airports in South Africa for more than a decade in order to reduce the frequency of bird strikes. The first dog was implemented in April 2002 when Mac started work at Durban International Airport. He was the first border collie to be used as a bird control dog, not only in South Africa but in the southern hemisphere. Mac’s implementation was shortly followed by Tweeny, who started work at OR Tambo International Airport in July 2002.

“A new breed was implemented at ORTIA in January 2012 with the introduction of Chase, a springer spaniel. Whilst the border collies have been extremely successful in the past, springer spaniels potentially bring a new dimension to the initiative. Border collies are effective in line of sight chases, whilst springer spaniels are effective in longer grass where birds aren’t’ readily visible, and are able to flush them out,” the Endangered Wildlife Trust said.