Animals saving animals - dogs in body armour, trained by North Walsham man, helping save endangered animals in Africa
PUBLISHED: 06:14 05 May 2017
Picture: Animals Saviing Animals
Taking dogs to the zoo is helping a new Norfolk-based organisation thwart rhino poachers in Africa
The men are armed, and ready to kill. They will slaughter endangered rhinoceros for their horns, and they will also shoot humans who come between them and the huge profits that can be made.
But as the poachers stalk the magnificent wild animals, they too are being watched and followed, by dogs in body armour, trained by a Norfolk man. Eventually the raiders spot the dogs and flee, abandoning equipment and ammunition.
A few years ago a poaching raid ended very differently with a rhino killed and her orphaned baby eventually starving to death.
Daryll Pleasants was working as a volunteer on the reserve and says: “I realised there was a real need for dogs, and knew the difference they could potentially make if deployed correctly.”
It was the beginning of Animals Saving Animals, now based at his home near North Walsham, where he also runs a dog training business, including classes on teaching pet dogs to track through the East Anglian countryside.
“Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a one man crusade there is no silver bullet in conservation, but I hope the organisation can make a small difference,” said Daryll, who grew up in Attleborough. His job, at 16, was at Banham Zoo and he went on to serve with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps for eight years as a dog trainer, working with military dogs in the UK and abroad, plus a year with the Army dog display team.
“I’ve always loved dogs and animals in general,” he said. “As a boy my favourite film was Born Free about George Adamson, so to now be working in Tanzania Mkomazi National park alongside Tony Fitzjohn, George’s assistant, and his organisation, is a dream realised.”
Six years ago he was asked to travel to a nature reserve in Kenya to help with its dog section. “It wasn’t what I was expecting,” he said. “It was basically three kennels in the middle of the African Bush containing two bloodhounds and one assault dog, with three handlers. After spending a few weeks there I realised the dogs were not being deployed correctly or fulfilling their full potential. So I recommended a triple role dog, one that could search, track and attack.”
He chose Belgian Malinois dogs, similar to a German Shepherd, saying. “They are like the infantry soldier of dogs, very agile, tenacious and intelligent.
“But I also use bloodhounds in areas where there is higher community crime as there is not generally the requirement to bite and they are a friendly dog by nature. Within the communities it’s very much hearts and minds, we assist them where possible and they support us and give us intelligence.”
Daryll spends half his time in Britian, running his own dog training business, and half in Africa, continuing to train anti-poaching dogs.
With each pair costing around £16,000 to train fully, he launched Animals Saving Animals last year.
The dogs bred in Britain are regularly taken to the zoo to familiarise them with African animals – and on helicopter rides, courtesy of Norwich-based SaxonAir, so that they can cope with the noise and sensation of the helicopters used on the African reserves.
Several local businesses are backing Daryll’s work, as well as national and international celebrities, and in October Animals Saving Animals will be one of the beneficiaries of a major fund-raising event, Explorers Against Extinction, at the Royal Geographical Society, hosted by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Many more celebrities are contributing doodles of hippos for the night and the Daryll hopes the fundraising boost will mean he apply for charitable status.
Animals Saving Animals is already working in four African countries - Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and will soon begin operating in Namibia, and eventually with Rhino Conservation Botswana, which Prince Harry became patron of, earlier this year.
Its dogs help rangers track and check wild animals across huge nature reserves. The patrols deter many poachers but Daryll said: “Our biggest problem is the distances we have to cover. Reserves can be 3,000 square kilometres.” When poachers are detected, teams are scrambled immediately.
“On arrival we split into three groups with first priority to injured animals and any young calves, which are all-too-often present because poachers favour mothers as they won’t leave the calf,” explained Daryll.
“The second group secures the area, gathering evidence, and the third gives chase. Normally this consists of a dog unit, armed team and air support. A poaching team is not, as people think, locals. This is a well-trained well-organised unit, normally with military experience. Each man stands to get $10,000 per horn.”
Around a hundred African elephants and three rhinoceros are killed every day by poachers but Daryll said his dogs are already making a difference and helping to reduce poaching by 70pc in some areas. “Dogs have one distinct advantage to humans, they can track at night,” he said. And he said no dogs had been wounded during missions, although they wear body armour just in case. “Shots are exchanged between poachers and rangers on regular occasions but dogs are never released into those situations,” he said. “The primary role of an anti poaching dog is to track and, should it be deemed necessary, apprehend.”
So how can the people of East Anglia help? From sponsoring a dog to purchasing a t-shirt there are many ways to support Animals Saving Animals. Celebrities, businesses and individuals sponsor dogs or donate equipment and Daryll also suggested sponsored events or school non-uniform days – and would be happy to give presentations about how his dogs have become frontline fighters against animal extinction. For more details visit www.animalssavinganimals.org