How dogs are helping in wildlife conservation in Laikipia (Kenya)

By November 16, 2020Anti-poaching

John Tekeles, head of the Canine Unit at Ol Pejeta conservancy plays with two year old pupppy Malaika on October 23, 2020. The conservancy has introduced a dog unit to assist in the fight against poaching. Original photo by Joseph Kanyi/National Media Group.

Irene Mugo, The Daily Nation | November 10, 2020

Read the original story here.

What you need to know:

  • So perfect is the canines’ work that for the last four years, there has been no poaching incident.
  • The rangers are using the dogs to protect the neighboring community and resolve cases alongside the police department in Nanyuki.

In the light morning breeze, herds of zebras dot the expansive Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia county.

But a closer look by visitors reveals rangers training dogs to ward off poachers in their efforts to protect the wildlife and safeguard the local community.

The conservancy’s tracking dog unit has six dogs – five bloodhounds and a Spring Spanish breed that offer support to the armed rangers in case of a threat to the hundreds of animals inside the conservancy. It is the first private conservatory to have a K9 unit in Kenya.

According to John Tekeles who is in-charge of the dog unit, the canines are trained differently and depending on their breed each has a specialty ranging from tracking the scent of a poacher(s), to detecting ammunition and ivory, attacking and detaining suspected poachers or criminals encroaching.

So perfect is their work that for the last four years, there has been no poaching incident.

“Having no poaching activity in the conservancy for four years is not mean feat… it has taken the effort of many people and these dogs to protect the wildlife,” he said in an interview.

John Tekeles, head of the Canine Unit at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia County plays with two-year-old tracking dog Malaika on October 23, 2020. The conservancy has introduced a dog unit to assist in the fight against poaching.

With no cases of poaching in the over 90, 000 acres conservancy, the rangers are using the dogs to protect the neighboring community and resolve cases alongside the police department in Nanyuki as well as assist the work of Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) and other conservancies.

They use the dogs in the community to recover lost property, recovering cattle stolen in rustling raid which is common in Laikipia as well as aiding police officers in clearing murder puzzles.

“We are empowering the community by engaging in corporate social responsibility and providing security to bolster our working relationship to wade off crime in the conservancy,” he said.

Mr Tekeles further stated that they are working hand in hand with government agencies such as the Kenya Police Service and Kenya Wildlife service.

Of the dog breeds, the Spring Spanian have the ability to search for ammunition, guns, bombs or accessories used in war while the bloodhounds are unrivaled in tracking abilities.

Pioneer Canine

In fact, research has it that the bloodhounds nose consists of approximately 230 million olfactory cells, which are the receptors responsible for processing scent. This is 40 times the number in humans.

“Bloodhounds stick to the train for more than 130 miles and they gave the ability to follow scents over 12 days old,” noted officer Tekeles.

He said the dogs mostly follow instructions specific to their training which makes it easier for them to follow human scent.

“It all depends on the training which is also determined by their breed. They are not trained to bite,” he noted.

To trace a poacher(s) the officers brings the scent of the suspect to the dogs nostrils for a couple of minutes before unleashing it to the scene.

Ol pejeta is one of the largest black rhino sanctuaries in East Africa and home to the last male Northern white rhino, Sudan, and has had the tracking dog unit for the last 15 years.

They have two species of the endangered Northern white rhino that have armed rangers guarding them 24/7.

On October 19, the conservancy lost of the pioneer canine in the dog track unit, Diego, who served for seven years protecting the rhinos, to bone cancer.

“He was courageous and his prowess was unmatched. He was a superhero and a leader among the rest,” said officer Tekeles.

Emotional Attachment

While the dogs at the conservancy are only trained to tackle one problem Diego was tactical and resourceful as he would play all three roles of tracking, attacking and detaining and detecting weapons.

“No dog can fit his shoes and it will take a while to replace him,” noted Mr Tekeles.

Diego was due for retire next year in November after his dutiful service at the conservancy.

Before his death, a team of vets considered a leg amputation to save his life, but unfortunately his blood tests revealed that he was also suffering from liver and pancreatic failure and that the disease was much more advanced.

“We had developed some level of emotional attachment with these dogs because they are our friends and our helpers. It is very painful to lose such a dog,” noted the officer.

The conservancy, on their social media platform, said Diego was instrumental to security operations in the region and during his tenure he assisted in firearm and ammunition recovery from cattle rustlers at Wamba in Samburu County.

He took part in a poacher recovery operation at Lake Nakuru National Park, Shaba National Reserve and Westgate Conservancy.

“He also took part in tracking cattle rustlers where two National Police Reservists were shot dead but the stolen cattle recovered as well as ambushes here at the game reserve,” they said on their Twitter page.

The conservancy intends to increase the number of dogs in their tracking unit to 10.