Dogs Save Elephants!

January 11, 2012  By: Gretchen

How One of Big Life’s New Tracker Dogs Successfully Tracked Down Elephant Poachers Armed with AK47’s

Founded in September 2010 by photographer Nick Brandt in urgent response to the recent dramatic escalation in poaching across much of Africa, Big Life Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems.  This is a recent success story from their program.

The gang of Somali poachers, armed with AK47’s, shot and killed two big bull elephants for their ivory on consecutive days. It was not their first, for they had been  killing elephants in the area for a year. Once again, they successfully fled the scene of the crime.

This happened not in the Amboseli ecosystem, where Big Life’s rangers have so dramatically reduced the poaching, but in a place called Rukinga, east of Tsavo, several hours drive away.  A group there, Wildlife Works, had heard of Big Life’s newly-acquired tracker dogs. The four tracker dogs had just finished six months of intensive training. Two were to be based on the Tanzanian side, the first time tracker dogs have ever been implemented there for tracking poachers, and two in Kenya, the only tracker dogs in a huge area of the southeastern part of the country. Wildlife Works called, asking for help tracking the poachers.

The next morning, Jazz was flown in. He was shown the tracks and was off without a moment’s hesitation, his first ever real job. The poachers had employed clever anti-tracking techniques, splitting up, re-crossing their tracks and laying false trails. But Jazz saw straight through them and carried on. Llew, Big Life’s Field Co-ordinator, flew ahead of the ground teams with a spotter, hoping to spot the poachers or at least slow them down.

By 6.30pm, Jazz had been on the trail for over ten hours without break, and had covered about 20 miles without a single wrong turn, but needed a rest. In the meantime, a group of rangers continued ahead of Jazz, and soon spotted the poachers just ahead of them. The poachers ran, but were caught. Identified by their tracks, the men were arrested, and are now awaiting trial.

Although many people worked hard to make this arrest possible, it never would have happened without Jazz and his nose.

This incident has quickly proven what we already knew : that tracker dogs are one of the best anti-poaching deterrents money can buy. Poachers know that even a day after the event, dogs can find them, and there is nothing that the poacher can do to change this. The Maasai in particular are terrified of trackers dogs, regarding them as somehow supernatural in their ability to track them down.

So now Jazz and his canine cohorts have become one more critical piece in Big Life’s anti-poaching armory. The fact that Big Life is able to help other groups well beyond our range is an added bonus.

Photos and story courtesy Big Life Foundation