South African academy trains anti-poach­ing dogs

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - RUSTEN­BURG—

Venom and Killer. Th­ese are mem­bers of a furry breed of anti-poach­ing op­er­a­tives, dogs that can de­tect a whiff of hid­den rhino horn in a sus­pect’s ve­hi­cle or follow the spoor of armed poach­ers in South Africa’s be­sieged wildlife parks. Dogs are a small part of an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate strug­gle to curb poach­ing in Africa, where tens of thou­sands of ele­phants have been slaugh­tered in re­cent years to meet a surg­ing ap­petite for ivory in Asia, pri­mar­ily China. In South Africa, poach­ers have killed more than 1,000 rhi­nos this year, sur­pass­ing the 2013 record. Coun­tries and con­ser­va­tion­ists are try­ing more ro­bust pa­trols and surveil­lance, com­mu­nity pro­grams and other tac­tics against crim­i­nal gangs that some­times ben­e­fit from of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion.

As the con­flict rages, elite dogs and han­dlers are drilling at an anti-poach­ing academy north­west of Jo­han­nes­burg. The course pre­pares ca­nine units to find firearms or con­tra­band, track sus­pects in the un­der­growth and ab­seil in har­nesses from he­li­copters in pur­suit of poach­ers. Dogs and han­dlers learn to trust each other and fine tune a re­la­tion­ship bal­anc­ing con­trol and ag­gres­sion. “One needs to be the dom­i­nant male. Hope­fully, it’s the guy and not the dog,” said Mar­ius van Heer­den, a 28-year-old han­dler who lives, works and sleeps with Venom, a Bel­gian Mali­nois whose breed is known for en­durance and ath­leti­cism and has been used by the U.S. mil­i­tary in Iraq and Afghanistan. Venom prob­a­bly got his name from bit­ing train­ers as a puppy, van Heer­den said. South Africa- based Paramount Group, which makes mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and other equip­ment, runs the academy, which has about 50 adult dogs and the same num­ber of pup­pies. Most are Bel­gian Mali­nois and Ger­man Shep­herds.

Henry Hol­sthyzen, an academy leader, trained a Bel­gian Mali­nois called Killer who has been cred­ited with anti-poach­ing suc­cesses in South Africa’s Kruger Na­tional Park. Some 400 ca­nine units are needed for the coun­try’s wildlife parks, but only about 30 are op­er­a­tional, he said. On a re­cent af­ter­noon, sev­eral rangers from the cen­tral African coun­try of Gabon lunged at each other in com­bat ex­er­cises at the academy.

“We need to fo­cus our ef­forts where the need is great­est,” said Paramount chair­man Ivor Ichikowitz, cit­ing the slaugh­ter of much of Gabon’s ele­phant pop­u­la­tion. He said poach­ing was more than a con­ser­va­tion is­sue be­cause it funds in­sur­gen­cies and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties across Africa. Rhino horn fetches enor­mous sums on the il­le­gal mar­ket. It is made of ker­atin, a sub­stance also found in hu­man fin­ger­nails. Some peo­ple covet it as a sta­tus sym­bol and a heal­ing agent de­spite a lack of ev­i­dence that it can cure.

Con­raad de Ros­ner, who runs another anti-poach­ing group called K9 Con­ser­va­tion, said poach­ers now worry about dogs. One poacher was caught with chili pep­per, which he ap­par­ently thought would throw pur­su­ing dogs off his scent, and rangers are con­cerned that poach­ers might try to poi­son dogs with con­tam­i­nated meat, he said.

How­ever, de Ros­ner said han­dlers were care­ful about let­ting dogs at­tack sus­pects with po­ten­tially lethal force, say­ing: “We are very ret­i­cent to re­lease a dog to bite a sus­pect, just be­cause of all the le­gal ram­i­fi­ca­tions there­after.” Con­ser­va­tion­ists are us­ing dogs else­where in Africa.n Parks, a Jo­han­nes­burg-based group that jointly runs the park with the Con­golese gov­ern­ment.—AP

An ex­plo­sion fol­low­ing an air strike is seen in western Kobani neigh­bour­hood.

Cheer­ing sup­port­ers bran­dished old por­traits of Mubarak out­side the Cairo mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal where he is be­ing held.

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