Often outnumbered, ill-equipped and poorly informed about the criminals they pursue, anti-poaching and ranger units fight an uphill battle against poaching. Poachers have killed over 1,000 African rangers in the past decade. However, the use of dogs during anti-poaching operations offers rangers an upper hand. Dogs can alert rangers of threats before they strike, track down poachers and help to locate and seize illegal shipments of weapons and ivory.
White Paw Training is an elite dog training company involved with the training of anti-poaching dogs across Africa. We caught founder Daryll Pleasants just before he left for Tanzania and asked him about himself, White Paw and the company’s anti-poaching work.
Where are you from originally?
I am originally from Norwich, a large city situated in Norfolk in the U.K and remain based locally today.
Did you always want to work with animals? Why did you join the British Military?
Since childhood I wanted to join the army and my earlier jobs as a veterinarian assistant and zoo keeper allowed me to gain experience with animals so that I was able to join the British Army Veterinary Corps as a military working dog instructor. The army was always my chosen goal as I have a love of both animals and the outdoors, and wanted to work with animals within a military environment while serving my country.
How long were you in the military before retiring? Why did you leave?
I spent a total of eight years as a military dog instructor but this role also incorporated work as an escape and evasion instructor in countries across the world, experience which I have found invaluable in my work against poaching. For example, figuring out where most poachers are likely to strike or escape and where dogs are best used for tactical deployment. I left the military due to the birth of my daughter. I felt it was the right time to move in a different direction that allowed me to spend time with her rather than long periods overseas.
What made you decide to start training dogs for antipoaching efforts?
As I mentioned earlier, I have always had a love of animals for as long as I can remember and am particularly fascinated by rhinos and elephants. As I’ve grown older it was always a wish of mine to work in an environment with these animals. When I started reading about the poaching troubles in Africa and the devastating effects to both species, I realized I could combine my knowledge and experience of military dogs and my desire to work with these animals together to help counteract the effects of poaching and protect these majestic animals.
What do you train dogs to do? Are they trained to smell guns, people or are there different dogs for different jobs?
I train several classifications of anti-poaching dog. Infantry Patrol dogs are trained to patrol with rangers and indicate the presence of poachers or the direction of gunfire and lead the handler in the direction of trouble, giving chase and apprehending if necessary. Triple Role dogs are trained in three separate disciplines: searching, tracking and attack. This dog will search for weapons, ammunition or associated items. Also, on locating the poachers’ firing point, the dog will track, chase and apprehend suspects. I also train Search dogs that search for ivory, bush meat, weapons and ammunition. The dog can search in both urban and rural areas, buildings, people, vehicles and luggage. Lastly, I train Tracker dogs. They can track suspects up to 48 hours after an incident. However, it is not unusual for a tracker dog to track seven days after an incident and successfully locate the poachers. These dogs can cover the same ground as 60 human searchers in the same amount of time. They are trained to ignore distraction and can act in all areas. If required, they will also pursue and apprehend suspects. Overall, the presence of dogs has a proven a strong deterrent to poaching.
Most parks and reserves do not have much funding, what is the cost to train dogs for anti-poaching work?
The cost of training anti-poaching dogs varies greatly from organization to organization. It also depends on which classification of dog is required. The key difference with myself and White Paw Training is that we work solely as a not for profit organization. We do not charge for any of the dog and handler training we deliver.
What breed of dog is used to fulfill these various roles? Is there one species you favor?
Different companies use different breeds of dogs. Personally, I chose the Belgian Malinois for conservation work due to its intelligence, agility and tenacity. It is also a very adaptable dog for it works well in any environment and shows its handler exceptional loyalty.
What parks or countries have you trained anti-poaching dogs for?
I have successfully established two anti-poaching dog units in Africa and Tanzania last year with fresh projects this year in South Africa, Belize and Kazikstan on the horizon. By way of example, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy Dog Section consists of 16 conservation dogs in total, some of which have already been relocated to other conservancies in the fight against poaching. The two key organizations I have assisted are the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and Mkomazi National Park.
What is the most difficult aspect in training these dogs?
The biggest challenge I face is not training the dogs themselves but training the views of people toward the effectiveness of dogs in a co-set action environment. However, during the last year people have embraced the concept of dogs for this work enormously and are beginning to see both the effectiveness of these animals and how important they are for keeping ahead of the poachers, stopping them and reducing the number of animals slaughtered. The British Army and American services have increased the use of dogs tenfold since 1990, having proved their worth in the Gulf War. A large part of stopping poaching is catching poachers and dogs have a valuable role to play in this part. They are animals saving animals.
Do you keep any dogs of your own as pets?
As a pet dog my wife and I have a French bulldog named Bullseye. He is a comical if not obstinate little fellow who gives me more trouble than any anti-poaching dog that is triple his size!! I am shortly taking on two Malinois puppies which will be demonstration dogs promoting our work.
Thank you for your time and good luck in Tanzania, Daryll.
All images courtesy of Daryll Pleasants.
Interview and Introduction by Ben Block.