Elephant Appeal: The Kenyan canine unit putting elephant poachers off the scent

The business of protecting wildlife has now become an extremely professional and militarised affair

Related Topics

The attack dog was 200 yards away, its head just visible through the tips of the long grass in which it crouched.

I had already been warned that it weighed 100lbs and once it reached full speed it would be travelling at 35mph. Most disturbing of all was that its jaw had a biting strength of 40 pounds per square inch.

“He will go for the arm,” the dog’s handler had told me. “Then, if the person struggles, its teeth will shred the whole arm down to the wrist bone.”

I had been fitted with a full body bite suit, which I was assured offered guaranteed protection. But, whatever the supposed effectiveness of the specialist clothing, the reality was that I now stood alone in the midst of an African savannah waiting for a dog to charge me – impossible not to dwell on the impact of those teeth.

I found myself in this situation as I had come to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the central Kenyan district of Laikipia to see the work done by the Space for Giants charity, the subject of this year’s Independent Christmas campaign.

Ol Pejeta has some of the world’s most threatened wildlife: not only elephants, but also rhinoceroses, including four of the only seven northern white rhino still in existence. That means they are constantly under attack from poachers.

To combat this, Space for Giants and its partners have had to put together their own defence force. So serious is the threat, and so ruthless the poachers, that training the teams that now patrol the conservancy is a former sergeant-major in the SAS who only recently left the regiment after 27 years’ service.

The business of protecting wildlife has now become an extremely professional and militarised affair. The rangers, all reservists in the Kenyan police force, have the latest weaponry, primarily the German-made G3 rifle.

A rapid-response team can be deployed in a helicopter at the first sign of trouble. Motion detectors and even unmanned drones are being considered to try to stop the poaching gangs, who are slaughtering 100 elephants across Africa a day and are quite willing to kill any rangers who try to stop then.

This is why anti-poaching measures make up one of the key areas to which money donated by Independent readers will be focused, along with helping establish a new East African conservancy, local community outreach, and GPS tracking to gain a better understanding of elephant movement patterns.

The newest addition to the anti-poaching cause at Ol Pejeta is its dog unit. A dozen dogs, mostly Dutch Shepherds crossed with Malinois, are being trained to take down a poacher when instructed to. They are also able to scent weapons and even smell ivory on a person.

It is believed they will act as a powerful deterrent – and I was about to understand why.

The dog that was to be unleashed on me had been named Tarzan as he was so much bigger than the rest.

Once released, he came towards me at such speed that I was almost caught by surprise as he loomed before me –  sharp fangs and black set eyes.

I had been told to turn my head and hang out my right arm, so he would go for it not my body. The impact as he seized my arm was enough to swing me off my feet and I almost sailed in a full circle through the air before crunching against the ground.

It took three men to get him finally to release his grip. Even restrained, he pulled against his leash so the man holding it had to set his legs against the ground to control him.

It was a pretty scary experience, especially the moments afterwards as he gripped and shook my arm with his jaw locked to the padding. Then there was no escaping his size and ferociousness.

“Do you want a second go?” Tarzan’s handler asked me.

“Absolutely not,” came my answer.

For the sake of Ol Pejeta’s wildlife, let us just hope the elephant poachers prove as reluctant to confront him as I was at the prospect of having to face him once again.

To donate now, go here

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas