Interview from the front line… How dogs are helping safeguard the future of rhinos
“We use dogs because poaching has changed and dogs have the ability to see, smell, and identify any suspicious activity within their vicinity”
In the K9 Unit at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, dogs are trained to track, pick up scents and attack poachers. They are at the front line of rhino conservation, and are a vital addition to the team working to protect these vulnerable African giants. We spoke to John Tekeres, head of the K9 unit at Ol Pejeta, to find out what it takes to train dogs to fight poaching.
What is the role of the anti-poaching dogs at the Ol Pejeta conservancy?
The anti-poaching dog unit has a total of six dogs, which have different roles such as tracking, search and assault. They’re a strong back up for any security operation within and outside the conservancy. We have two breeds of dogs in the unit, Malinois and bloodhounds, and each dog has at least two handlers.
Why are dogs and these breeds in particular an effective addition to the fight against poaching?
At first, the Ol Pejeta K9 Unit had only bloodhounds, which have a very good ability in tracking because of their big ears [that stir up particles on the ground] enabling them to pick up even the faintest scent. Later we introduced Malinois, which are the most intelligent dogs. They have the ability to track, assault and search, and they can work under any environment.
Ol Pejeta decided to use dogs simply because poaching has changed and dogs have the ability to see, smell, and identify any suspicious activity within their vicinity.
Can you tell us about any successes of the dog unit at Ol Pejeta?
Anti-poaching dogs are important to armed rangers. This is because of they assist in tracking any strange footprints within the conservancy, making it easier for rangers to work quicker and apprehend the suspect if arrested. We have also reduced the number of incidences within Ol Pejeta and its community, through the assistance that we give to communities; we have increased the relationship between Ol Pejeta and the community, so they will voluntarily give us information of any insecurity targeting Ol Pejeta.
What does it take to train and care for the dogs?
For us to give back good care to our dogs we need handlers who have that passion for dogs, then a professional trainer who has experience in the field. We also need training equipment like balls, harnesses, hand sleeves, leading ropes, dog shoes, collars and medical kit, as well as a dedicated vehicle for the unit. Also a proper diet for our dogs is key.
We plan to have an anti-poaching dog unit that meets all the required international standards, employs professional dog handlers and has state–of-the-art equipment to assist in the protection of endangered species.
Want to get involved? Here’s how you can help:
The conservancy needs donations to help equip and train their dogs and rangers. Donate to the K9 Unit and help Ol Pejeta fight poaching.
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje