The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary. And it's a regular target for poachers.
So the rangers at Ol Pejeta are always looking for ways to get an upper hand on the poachers. Their latest weapon? Anti-poaching dogs.
"They search, and they can track and they can attack," said ex-British Army Veterinary Corps Military Dog Instructor Daryll Pleasants.
Pleasants voluteered to train dogs to protect animals from poachers in Ol Pejeta. Rhino poaching can be a lucrative business, so the stakes are high. Rhino horn can sell for up to $30,000 a pound — more than gold or even cocaine.
"What these dogs will do is they will search for a carcass or associated items and bring the anti-poaching team in on the carcass. From the point of the carcass, they will then track after the intruders or the poachers and then, should they need to, can apprehend the intruder as well," Pleasants added.
When he arrived in Africa in August 2013, his new team consisted of three blood hounds and an assault dog named Tarzan. Within a few short months the team had not only expanded with a new kennel block and a dog agility arena, but grown to include the children of Tarzan, eleven Belgian Malanois puppies.
"They’re very agile, they’re very tenacious, but they’re intelligent as well," Pleasants said. "Why we use these dogs is because of the fact that they are fully approachable."
In a conservancy where the general public has free movement to enjoy the wildlife, there is no place for an animal that cannot be controlled.
"What we’re doing with these new breed of puppies that we are training is they are fully approachable," Pleasants said. "So if we are doing attack work with them, we’ll praise the dogs, give them love, we’ll then do attack work with them, we’ll immediately praise them afterwards as well. So it’s more of a trigger we can switch on or off when we need to."
During his training, Tarzan practices every scenario he may encounter during the course of his duty — including different terrains, vehicle entry and obstacles including fire and water.
"When the dog is deployed in an attack on someone, the dog will be upon you within seconds and it’s travelling about 20 kilometers an hour, so it’s travelling at quite a rate," Pleasants said. "Unlike a bullet, it doesn’t move in a straight line. It tends to weave around hedges, around trees, over bushes so to actually get a shot off and hit it when it’s coming at you head on is quite hard."
The anti-poaching dogs are given protective gear to shield them from poachers, too.
"[Poachers] are coming into the conservancy with AK-47 assault rifles and if we do actually come upon them or try to apprehend them, they will open fire every time on us. So what we’re doing with the dogs is giving them the latest ballistic body armour which is stab-proof, kick and punch-proof and also ballistic to AK-47 with plates in it," he said. "And we are also giving them the latest FIDO head gear, which is a piece of camera equipment we put on their head which actually films as the dog is going in for the attack. It has night vision and also has a GPS system as well."
Once all of the puppies are fully trained, the dogs will also be used at the neighboring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, helping the rangers there.