Norfolk-trained dogs to help save endangered animals in Africa
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
They may appear cute and playful now, but two Norfolk-trained dogs will soon be on the frontline in the global fight against rhino poaching in Africa.
Luna and Savas, two Belgian Malinois, recently passed a critical phase in their training ahead of their deployment to Botswana later in the year when they undertook a helicopter flight from the SaxonAir hangar at Norwich International Airport.
The dogs were accompanied by handlers Giles Clark, a patron of Animals Saving Animals (ASA), and trainer James Wozencroft while project head Daryll Pleasants looked on.
Mr Pleasants said the training session had been a huge success.
'The training and environmental experience the two dogs obtained is really invaluable to their future roles as anti-poaching dogs,' he said.
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'With ever evolving poaching practises the helicopter allows anti-poaching teams fast deployment to an incident, but for a young dog facing both downdraft and rotor noise this is initially a scary experience.
'To be given helicopter time by SaxonAir allows us to de-sensitise them to this.'
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ASA has already trained and delivered 23 anti-poaching dogs to Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Luna and Savas will be the first deployed in Botswana and will work in the Okavango Delta.
Neil Aldridge of Rhino Conservation Botswana said the dogs would be based in Maun in the north of the country.
'The anti-poaching work going on in Botswana is excellent at the moment and there isn't really a poaching problem in the country,' he said.
'The dogs will give us another means to keep up the good work.'
Mr Pleasants said once they arrived in the country the dogs would be introduced to their new handlers.
'The dogs adapt quickly to the change in climate and are given a minimum of 10 days to settle in,' he said.
'They will then go through a six month training period in the field in Botswana and once ready their primary use will be for tracking and searching out weapons, ammunition and associated items.'
• Anti-poaching dog sections have become an essential part of conservation work but are expensive to maintain. If you would like to help sponsor a dog visit: Animals Saving Animals
A breed apart
Belgian Malinois dogs are used by police and special forces around the world.
The breed is similar to German shepherds but smaller, more compact an more athletic said dog trainer James Wozencroft.
'They are a tough, hardy dog with a high 'prey drive' (predatory instincts) making them ideal for this sort of work,' he said.
Daryll Pleasants of Animals Saving Animals said a lot of care went in to choosing the right dog for the project.
'Generally we will select one pup from a litter to start training with us.
'They are initially selected at 10 weeks and through puppy tests we are looking for certain character traits including being friendly - approachable but suspicious - courageous and to have high prey drive.
'Our service dogs our will encounter live situations on a regular basis so throughout their foundation course we are looking for continuity of character. The training is designed to place them in a wide variety of scenarios that tests this.'