BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
It’s hard to deny that there are few things your average criminal fears more than an angry dog rushing at them, and that’s probably why pretty much every law enforcement department today employs at least one canine unit at all times. With their keen noses, good turn of speed, sharp teeth, and absolute fealty to their owners, they can sniff out perps on the loose from a long distance.
In Africa, poaching remains a huge problem. The huge and iconic animals that roam the savannah – rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and more – are under constant threat by marauding gangs of poachers, who kill the animals illegally and sell their parts on various international black markets. Tracking poachers isn’t quite as simple as just chasing them back to their base; the African veldt is vast and full of potential hiding places. While officials meticulously comb every inch of ground in search of criminals, there’s nothing stopping poachers from continuing to illegally kill animals. In the past, it’s taken days or even months to bust these rings, but recently South African officials have finally found a way to bring man’s best friend into the fray. Enter the latest innovation in the war on poachers and the fight to protect Earth’s biodiversity: a flying dog.
Well, not quite. In actuality, it’s a parachuting dog, a German shepherd from Rustenburg named Arrow. Searching for new ways to track and capture poachers from the air, the first attempts at training a dog to fly started in September, when Arrow made his first jump at a military base. Since then, officers and officials have searched for ways to refine the technique and allow the dog to hit the ground running. The basic process is very simple: airlifted aboard a helicopter, Arrow and his human handler hang over the side of the aircraft, mimicking an actual deployment. When officials have spotted their target, in this case a decoy meant to help train the animal, pilots cut the two loose and send them parachuting to the ground. On making landfall, Arrow’s handler releases the hound (à la Mr. Burns), who quickly takes down the human decoy. Arrow sports a variety of specially tailored accessories that keep him happy and safe while in the air. Not only does he wear a unique dog-sized vest designed to anchor him to his handler, but his handlers have also provided him with a set of custom made goggles (doggles?) designed to minimize air resistance and keep the dog’s senses sharp while in transit.
Arrow made history for being the world’s first skydiving dog in September, but it wasn’t until December of 2016 that the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Arrow as the first sky-diving anti-poaching dog in history. What’s next for Arrow? South Africa’s anti-poaching services have already stated that Arrow is the test, not the end result; while he won’t be going out into the field anytime soon, South Africa hopes to use his training methods to help encourage an entire generation of canine paratroopers. Future poachers may have to watch out if they hear barks in the sky…