A Tribute to Naiko, a Legend of Tsavo

Published on the 9th of May, 2022

On the 12th April we said goodbye to our beloved teammate, Naiko, following a short battle with cancer. To us, he was a dog, a partner, and a precious friend. The six years he spent in the field had an effect that will be felt for decades. Naiko’s dedication and talent led to the arrest of dozens of poachers and deterred countless others.

Naiko was a once-in-a-lifetime talent

In 2016, we launched our Canine Unit in partnership with the KWS. The success of this special anti-poaching team hinged on its four-legged talent. To round out our founding team, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois was brought to our attention. He arrived in Tsavo having never set foot in Kenya before, fresh from training in the Netherlands and Tanzania.

Even as a young recruit, Naiko's talent shone through

Not only did Naiko adapt to Tsavo life — he flourished in it. He thrived in the heat and seemed right at home in the vast wilderness. We built state-of-the-art kennels to house the Canine Unit, and while Naiko enjoyed his down time, he was happiest when out on the trail. He was a dog who really loved his job.

Naiko shared an incredible bond with his handler, Semeli. They grew together in their roles. Semeli began his career as a ranger, but after showing a unique ability with dogs, he was moved over to lead the Canine Unit. Naiko and Semeli worked as a pair from the very beginning. They were matched during training in Tanzania, and then tackled the Tsavo landscape side-by-side.

Naiko and Semeli (second pair from left) shared an incredible bond

Even as a young dog, Naiko was always the best. He had an incredible nose and had an unparalleled talent for tracking. What made him legendary was he did it all under steady pace, conserving energy and resulting in exceptional stamina. Word got out quickly: Naiko was called upon by everyone in the Tsavo ecosystem, tackling anti-poaching missions across the wilderness. Equally, he became infamous among poachers and other perpetrators. His mere presence became a deterrent, as everyone knew there was a dog in the landscape who could track them to their very front door.

Naiko flourished in the Tsavo landscape

In fact, that happened on countless occasions. Naiko assisted in the arrest of dozens of poachers, often tracking them through the park, back into the community, and right up to their house. While many dogs have raw talent, Naiko also had extreme endurance. Most police dogs follow a scent for 1 kilometre, but Naiko routinely completed 15-kilometre tracks, navigating thick bush and virgin terrain. His record was a whopping 19 kilometres, which resulted in an arrest by the KWS.

While Naiko enjoyed downtime, he was happiest when on the trail

Naiko loved his job. This was evident to anyone who witnessed him on the trail. Semeli always commented on Naiko’s work ethic, noting how he was methodical, diligent, and never gave up on a track. His obedience was second to none. Semeli could command him to sit, walk away to attend to something, and return to find him still rooted to the spot.

Naiko loved his job and was extraordinarily good at it

Last month, Naiko’s health began to fail. He suddenly went off his food, which raised alarm bells. The dogs’ vitals are checked every day, and nothing prior had indicated a decline. We rushed Naiko to Nairobi, where our veterinarian was waiting to admit him. An ex-ray revealed a large, mast cell tumour on Naiko’s intestines. In the early morning hours of the 12th April Naiko slipped away. He was eight years old.

We can picture Naiko in the great beyond, doing what he loved best

Here in Tsavo, we, along with our other two tracking dogs, Aya and Zora, are missing Naiko deeply. However, we can just picture him in the great beyond, ears perked and nose to the trail, doing what he loved best.

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