Dogs Employed to Save Rhinos

South Africa has tried desperately to help save the rhino population from further depleting. With government-implemented plans of airlifts, voluntary anti-poaching teams, discrete relocation of rhinos, and thousands of dollars spent on high-tech surveillance and security, the country and its people are attempting to save one of the Big Five from extinction. New ways of combatting poachers are constantly being brain stormed. The most recent idea being implemented is utilizing abseiling attack dogs to protect the rhinos from threatening poachers.

The dogs will abseil from a helicopter for about 100 feet into a bush clearing below alongside their masters, who also repel. Once on the ground, the dogs will be unclipped, and will immediately begin racing across the bush to attack the culprits with the optimism of reaching them before they can attack the rhinos.

South African defense company Paramount’s Group, run by the Ichikowitz family, recommended this idea to fighting the poachers in South Africa, home to majority of the world’s rhino population. Eric Ichikowitz, foundation director, reasons, “With all of the technology in the world, one of the most successful solutions is one of the simplest: man and dog.

Belgian Shepherds are perfect for the job because of their breed; they “can work in extreme conditions,” says Henry Holsthyzen, who is in charge of the Paramount’s K9 Solution dogs academy. Belgian Shepherds can vary in appearance but are generally medium sized, square-proportioned dogs with short mahogany coats with black markings.  Their ears stand erect, constantly alert and listening. Male dogs are about 24-28 inches (61-70 centimeters), whereas females are smaller at 22-24 inches (56-61 centimeters). The males typically weigh 64-75 pounds (29-34 kilograms), and the females weigh 55-65 pounds (25-30 kilograms).

These dogs are highly intelligent, extremely fast, and have high levels of energy. Additionally, this particular breed has effectively been used in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is also used to guard the White House perimeter in the United States.

As of today, November 27th, 2014, the K9 academy has 60 adult dogs, and 60 puppies, of which the youngest was just born on November 26th, 2014. All 120 dogs have been trained in the art of hunting, tracking and detecting, since they were six weeks old.

It costs the Ichikowitz Foundation about 130,000 South African Rand (13,000.00 USD) to groom one dog for action, and an additional 50,000 South African Rand (5,000 USD) per year in upkeep. Although the price is steep, this attempt is surely worth a try. Rhinos are being poached daily, with a record high of 1,020 having been poached in 2014 alone. Unfortunately, rhinos are in high demand in Asian countries – mainly China and Vietnam – as it is falsely believed that their rhino horns are effective in curing anything from cancer to low libido. This is incorrect; rhino horns are made of the same material as human fingernails and hair.

For further development, the foundation is exploring whether they can fit the dogs with signal-emitting collars and track them with drones, which would enable to dogs to run at poachers at top speed, while allowing their masters to know their location. This plan and the amount of time, effort, resources, and money being put towards this cause is astounding and could truly make a huge difference. The dogs, which consider running around in the bush chasing people and sniffing out ivory a game, have no idea how massive their contribution to the anti-poaching initiative may potentially be: saving an entire species.