RCB's rhino protection dog, Savas, takes his first helicopter flight

 Savas, the rhino protection dog, encounters his first helicopter with the support of his trainer Daryll Pleasants of Animals Saving Animals. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas, the rhino protection dog, encounters his first helicopter with the support of his trainer Daryll Pleasants of Animals Saving Animals. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas, one of RCB’s two new rhino protection dogs, recently passed a critical phase in his training when he took his first helicopter flight ahead of his deployment to Botswana this summer.

Our handsome boy is a one-year-old Belgian shepherd or malinois. The breed is similar to the German shepherd, but smaller, more compact and more athletic.

Savas is being given specialist training as a rhino protection dog in the UK by Daryll Pleasants, Director of Animals Saving Animals, and dog trainer James Wozencroft. “The Belgian shepherd is a tough, hardy dog with a high ‘prey drive’, making it ideal for this sort of work,” said James, who also brought along another six-month-old dog he is training, called Luna.

 Six-month-old Luna is not afraid of anything in the SaxonAir helicopter hangar. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Six-month-old Luna is not afraid of anything in the SaxonAir helicopter hangar. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas’ training includes searching out ammunition and illegal wildlife products, tracking down and detaining poachers and other criminals, visiting a zoo to encounter the African animals he may meet in the wild in Botswana, and travelling in light aircraft, such as helicopters.

In March, he and Luna visited the SaxonAir hangar at Norwich International Airport to have their first encounter with a helicopter.

“A helicopter enables rhino protection teams to deploy swiftly to the scene of an incident, but for young dogs the down-draft and noise created by the turning rotors is initially a scary experience. To allow us to desensitise our dogs to this, SaxonAir generously allows us to take them up in a helicopter. This training and environmental experience is invaluable to their future roles as protection dogs,” said Daryll.

 Savas sits on trainer James Wozencroft's knee in the stationary helicopter to get used to the new experience. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas sits on trainer James Wozencroft's knee in the stationary helicopter to get used to the new experience. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

First, Savas and Luna were introduced to the stationary helicopter in the hangar and given the opportunity to give it and the environment a good sniff. Then they were encouraged to climb in and out of the helicopter cockpit, with their handlers and lots of support. 

Then the helicopter was moved out of the hangar into the open, where the rotors were started. The dogs were now introduced to the noise and down-drafts created by the turning blades. Savas and Luna are confident dogs and, with the support and reassurance of their handlers, they took it all in their stride.

Next, the dogs were encouraged to trot up to the helicopter where they were assisted to jump in (Luna is only a puppy and a bit small for a single leap) several times, before the doors were closed and the helicopter lifted off for a 10-minute flight.

 Savas takes some time to get used to the noise and down-draft created by the helicopter's turning rotor blades with the support of his handler James. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas takes some time to get used to the noise and down-draft created by the helicopter's turning rotor blades with the support of his handler James. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

 Savas and Luna complete their first helicopter flight. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Savas and Luna complete their first helicopter flight. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge

Throughout the flight, the dogs sat between their handlers’ knees, where they could look out of the window and see their surroundings. But our Savas felt so comfortable, he actually lay down and relaxed during the flight.

In June, Savas will be deployed to Botswana with Prima, a German shepherd who is being trained in Italy. He will work in Maun and the Okavango Delta to search out illegal wildlife products, track down wildlife criminals and deter poachers from targeting Botswana's wildlife and of course its precious rhinos.

Follow his training and adventures on social media or by adopting him (coming soon).

 The helicopter training is just one of the ways we ensure Savas has experienced as many aspects of his new life in Botswana as possible, with the support of his trainers. Photo courtesy of Louis Supple

The helicopter training is just one of the ways we ensure Savas has experienced as many aspects of his new life in Botswana as possible, with the support of his trainers. Photo courtesy of Louis Supple