Published on the 30th of March, 2018
Max, Naiko and Tanja were the original three musketeers comprising the DSWT Canine Unit launched in 2016. In order to consolidate and improve operations in the Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA), in November 2017 the DSWT Canine Unit joined forces with the Kenya Wildlife Service’s own dog unit from northern Tsavo. Central base was moved to the DSWT Canine Unit, near our Field Headquarters in the Tsavo Conservation Area. With HQ so close by, there is easy proximity to the DSWT Aerial Unit of five aeroplanes and two helicopters. The operations centre can provide logistics and service to the entire Tsavo Conservation Area for canine callouts and patrols. The KWS provided three experienced handlers, one trainee and one dog – Molly, a nine year old experienced German Shepherd, the wise d'Artagnan to our trio, who we are delighted to have on-board. Molly was sourced and trained through the KWS K9 system. Working under her handler Rono, in charge of the KWS Ithumba Unit for a number of years, she is a skilled tracker dog. With his experience and penchant for meticulousness, Rono has also taken command of the newly merged DSWT/KWS Canine Unit.
In anticipation of Molly’s arrival, we engaged the heavily recommended organisation, Invictus K9, to provide an assessment of our facilities, handlers and dogs. Following their guidance and expertise the kennels have been remodelled; the kennel window sizes increased and doors unblocked to allow the dogs to see out, and the interior was painted a lighter colour. All this was to improve air flow, reduce kennel temperature and increase outside visibility for the dogs. The runs attached to each kennel had a concrete floor and drainage system added, replacing the bare earth floors, to assist with kennel cleaning and improve hygienel. An obedience area has also been created adjacent to the kennel, as this is one discipline that takes place every day.
Invictus K9 introduced a weekly schedule which initially focused on fitness training for the dogs and handlers as well as tracking exercises to make sure our teams are always fit and prepared to track a culprit for any length of time, for up to 25km. First Aid training covering both the dogs and humans means they are well equipped to respond to any call or situation.
In February Invictus K9 reported a great improvement since their initial assessment last November and their latest 4 week training period has expanded the handlers and dogs’ abilities. All of this is vital preparation for real life scenarios which can be called into HQ at any moment. Like any emergency service unit, they must be poised and quick to respond. DSWT has now entered into an agreement with Invictus K9 who will return to check on our dogs and handlers quarterly for 4 weeks at a time, to make sure the unit is up to standard. A new Land Cruiser has also recently been purchased for the Canine Unit and will be deployed any day, sporting a bigger area in the back so two dogs can easily and comfortably be carried in their transport boxes.
We look forward to sharing more news on our enhanced Canine Unit and the impact they are having on operations with the Kenya Wildlife Service in deterring illegal activity in the Tsavo Conservation Area and, when needed, helping KWS track and arrest poachers.