At the secret training camp called Battle Creek in the African bush, two hours from Johannesburg, animals are trained to hunt humans who kill animals.
From drones to toxic mass relocations, South Africa’s war on poaching is being fought on many fronts. But one of the most effective weapons in the anti-poaching arsenal comes in canine form.
An initiative of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation sees dogs and handlers being trained in using Special Forces techniques to try to stem the tide of poaching that has seen thousands of rhinos and other endangered animals killed in South Africa and other African countries over the past decade.
Dogs and handlers are drilled to find firearms or contraband, track suspects in the undergrowth and abseil in harnesses from helicopters in pursuit of poachers. Added to this, handlers and their dogs train to go on foot patrols for up to three days carrying their own food and water, and hide in the bush wearing military ghillie suits to help catch poachers.
The dog and handler share a sleeping bag at night. The military style training camp lasts three months and sees the dogs and handlers making deep personal bonds as they learn the art of anti-poaching warfare together. With names like Venom, Killer, Alpha and Delta, the dogs are either Belgium malinois or German shepherds and are chosen from litters of puppies bred at Battle Creek.
It is estimated that 400 canine units are needed in South Africa’s game reserves alone and the training camp has approximately 50 dogs and 40 puppies at the moment. With no end in sight for the rhino and other wild animals being killed by poachers for their hugely profitable horns, the fight against poachers will continue and it is hoped that “man’s best friend” and their handlers can be an influential part on stemming the tide of poaching