RCB calls in the dogs to protect rhinos

This three-month-old Belgian malinois is part of the protection training programme with Animals Saving Animals. This dog is not one of RCB's pups – it's destined for rhino protection work in Zimbabwe

This three-month-old Belgian malinois is part of the protection training programme with Animals Saving Animals. This dog is not one of RCB's pups – it's destined for rhino protection work in Zimbabwe

Two very special puppies have been selected for a pioneering role with Rhino Conservatin Botswana (RCB). The malinois (or Belgian shepherd) pups will be the first canines to work as wildlife guardians in northern Botswana, helping to deter poachers and keep wildlife safe.

The pedigree puppies have just been born in Ireland. In October, they will travel to the West Midlands where their training will begin with Daryll Pleasants. Daryll is a former trainer of military dogs for the British Army and the founder of the charity Animals Saving Animals.

This malinois pup is learning how to scent track with its handler.

This malinois pup is learning how to scent track with its handler.

With Animals Saving Animals, RCB’s puppies will learn the same seek, find, detain and guard skills as other protection and detection dogs, but with extra twists designed to get them used to the sights and sounds of Africa, and wildlife crime work. These include visits to a local zoo to introduce the pups to rhinos, lions, elephants and other large and potentially dangerous African animals; helicopter flights, so that they can get to the scene of any crime quickly and leap into action, and snake-aversion training.

RCB’s Director Map Ives says: “The addition of these rhino protection dogs to our monitoring teams will greatly improve our ability to keep Botswana’s rhinos safe – and, ultimately, help to ensure the long-term survival of these wonderful creatures. Vigilance is key to stopping the illegal and senseless trade in rhino horn, and the recruitment of dogs to our team will greatly improve our levels of watchfulness.”

A scent trail is laid for the three-month-old malinois pups to follow, to fine tune their tracking skills.

A scent trail is laid for the three-month-old malinois pups to follow, to fine tune their tracking skills.

He added: “Malinois are ideal for this work – intelligent, loyal, agile, sturdy and, as protection services around the world will testify, equally able to track, detect, guard and apprehend. We’ve learned that one well-trained dog can cover as much ground in a night as eight officers, making it much harder for wildlife criminals to evade detection. And as news of the protection dogs’ arrival spreads, their presence across the Delta will be a powerful deterrent – sending out the message that Botswana’s rhinos now have canine guardians no poacher can escape.”

The cost of acquiring, training and equipping the dogs is being met by The Real Africa Trust, the charitable arm of the award-winning UK travel company Real Africa, which specialises in safaris.

The pups are taught to tackle criminals on command from a young age.

The pups are taught to tackle criminals on command from a young age.

Real Africa’s Sara White says: “We’re delighted to be able to donate these two highly-trained dogs to RCB to multiply their work force. Botswana has the best wildlife protection record in southern Africa, but anywhere that has rhinos will soon attract the unwanted attentions of poachers. These dogs will help RCB to be proactive in stamping out wildlife poaching before it can decimate rhino populations as it has done elsewhere in Africa.”

The final stage of the dogs’ training will see them transported to Botswana next summer, where they will acclimatise and meet the lucky RCB monitoring officers who will be their new handlers. The two teams will then train together before being despatched to the field.

An older dog is alert and ready for action. The dogs love their training and whimper with excitement as their training harnesses are put on.

An older dog is alert and ready for action. The dogs love their training and whimper with excitement as their training harnesses are put on.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

RCB will soon start fundraising to support our new Dog Squad. We need to build special kennels in Botswana to keep the dogs safe and cool. We also need to purchase stab-and bullet-proof armour to protect the dogs from unscrupulous poachers, and feed them on a high quality diet so they have plenty of energy for the job. Can you help?