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Skydiving dogs are helping to fight poachers in South Africa

Canine justice from above.

JOSH HRALA
21 OCT 2016
 

A dog training facility in South Africa is preparing upwards of 200 dogs and trainers to jump out of helicopters and quickly capture poachers trying to hunt endangered game in Kruger National Park.

The goal is to have a system in place that enables authorities to catch poachers before they're able to escape, which is currently one of the biggest hurdles facing anti-poaching groups. In order to combat poaching, they have to constantly monitor large areas in planes or helicopters to catch poachers in the act.

 

"Our K9 solution has proven itself as the dependable and reliable method of fighting poaching in the Kruger National Park," officials from the school - dubbed the Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy - write on their site.

"Our training protocols have been developed through experience gained in operational environments working in close conjunction with the Kruger Parks special operations units."

Poaching is a huge problem in many African countries. A report last year found that a rhino is killed roughly every 6 hours on the continent for their horns - which are often sold in Asia for a hefty sum - leaving some species on the brink of extinction.

And right now, is that there isn’t a great way for governments, conservationists, or wildlife protection agencies to stop these poachers, who can move quickly across borders or disappear into the bush before anyone can catch up with them.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the areas that poachers hunt in are huge. South Africa’s Kruger National Park - where the dogs will be implemented - is a whopping 19,425 square kilometres (7,500 square miles), making finding and capturing poachers almost impossible from the ground.

So far, researchers have tried horn cameras, drones, human guards, genetic sequencing, and the possibility of straight-up relocation to places like Australia in an attempt to save the endangered animals. But despite all of these innovative approaches, poaching continues.

 

Now, there's a new method on the table: skydiving dogs that can quickly get to the ground, sniff out the poachers, and capture them faster than a human could ever dream of.

According to Jani Actman at National Geographic, the school already has about 200 enrolees, consisting of dogs and their trainers/owners.

While dogs have been used for many field tasks before - such as sniffing out bombs or people trapped in rubble - the program represents the first time dogs will be trained to skydive from helicopters like commandos on a secret mission.

And even though the school isn’t sure if dogs experience adrenaline rushes like human skydivers, they say their tails start to wag when they hear the helicopter.

"The dogs are exceptionally comfortable with skydiving," Eric Ichikowitz from the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, who helped start the program, told National Geographic. "They know they’re going to work."

Besides allowing the team to capture poachers faster once parachuted in, the school says other dogs will be detecting poachers by specifically sniffing out elephant ivory, ammunition, and explosives, and will have a dedicated patrol route where they can point out suspicious changes.

All of the dogs used in the program are bred and trained at the facility. Early in the training, they are paired up with park rangers and other wildlife authorities.

Only time will tell if the new system will put a dent in the poaching rates in South Africa, but we hope it works.

Check out the video below to see one of the parachuting dogs make a jump:

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