K9 Unit

Approaching from an different angle

Humans have a mere 5 million receptors in their nose, captured by the olfactory area ( the space in our nose allocated for smelling)  which is about 4 square centimeters, dogs have vastly more than that number, with over 200 million receptors spread over an area of 170 square centimeters.

Dogs ability to read the story through their nose is astonishing and they have been a game changer for wildlife protection in northern Tanzania. Honeyguide have the only K9 ( K+9=canine=Dog) unit in the field of anti-poaching in Tanzania, in all areas where the dogs have been allocated, the poaching of elephants has been dramatically reduced. Sharing this resource over large landscapes between different conservation partners has enabled the K9 unit to be an affordable, innovative and highly effective solution to the protection of wildlife.

Astonishing results

Tanzania’s wildlife and places generate $1.4 billion annually. But with population growth, habitat loss, and poaching, these resources are under serious threat. Tanzania lost up to 60% of their elephants in the last 5 years.

Now, however, with the Honeyguide tracker dog unit, that has changed considerably in northern Tanzania. “Wherever where we have placed the K9 units, we have seen elephant poaching decline; in the Tarangire ecosystem we are seeing less than one elephant a year lost to poaching and in the Serengeti area, elephant poaching has declined by 90%” says Damian Bell, Honeyguide’s executive director.

Honeyguide established a K9 unit in 2011 in the Kilimanjaro region and within 2 years, all elephant poaching ceased. The news of the success of the K9 unit traveled to Manyara Ranch Conservancy, where they were losing up to 6 elephants a year and the success was repeated, within 2 years, zero elephants poached in both Manyara Ranch and Randilen Wildlife Management Area. 90% of all elephant poaching incidents where the tracker dogs have been called to action have led to successful arrests of the poachers.

There are few other statistics like this. The poacher knows this, the K9 unit is a tremendous deterrent to poaching in any area.

“The dogs will do anything for us, they trust us totally and have often put their lives in our hands, that’s why I and my team will also do anything for our companions, these wonderful dogs” Kayongo Kalasinga- head of Manyara K9 unit.

Meet the dogs

Rosdaz radiates wisdom and confidence as of an elderly man. He barely barks unless in front of a suspect poacher. Trained in the art of tracking footprints, Rosdaz has been tracking down poachers since 2014 and holds a very good track record.
Rocky is the oldest of the dogs in the unit but is still a puppy at heart. He has boundless energy and is especially friendly making him the darling of the community he serves. Despite his advanced age, Rocky does not tire easily and boosts the rangers with his energy when morale is low.
Tom is the youngest of the dogs and it shows. He is the most playful and his exercises are filled with barks and nips. His demeanor however changes when he is out tracking the scent of a poacher where he is disciplined and attentive, following up on the smallest of clues.

Breaking Bandits

The dim headlights of the old Landrover only just pick up what’s directly ahead on the road, bugs are splattered across the windscreen, the passengers are quietly chatting in in the back, the driver occasionally chips in his opinion, it has been a long day at the market. Suddenly the driver has to stand on the brakes, the Landrover shudders to a halt, ‘large rocks are strewn across the road;  they are all  wary and tired from market day in Kisongo, but  the passengers still get out to clear the road. It’s all over in a short time, the bandits had done this several times before, make it quick and get away with takings from the market day.

Scent Store

On 14th April 2018, a  Saturday morning, Emmanuel Laizer, the head of the Serengeti K9 unit team received an information from the local police department that thieves have broken into two shops at the local village of Natta; adjacent to the Ikoma Wildlife Management Area. They knew this was going to be a difficult case, two shops in the center of the village, almost guaranteed that the ‘evidence had been contaminated’; this means that if many people such as all the neighbors and community members go into the shop, the dogs will not be able to separate the scent of the thieves and the scent  of the onlookers. However Emmanuel could not resist the challenge; could he and Jerry find this scent?

What it costs?

The K9 unit based in the Serengeti national park covers an area of about 20 sq km (including Serengeti park, Ikona Wildlife management area, Grumeti and Ikrongo Game reserves), where as the Manyara team covers  about 15,000 sq. km ( Tarangire National park, Lake Manyara National park, Arusha National Park, Enduimet WMA, Randilen WMA, Burunge WMA and Manyara Ranch). Each kennel and unit cost $25,000 per year to operate, that is between $1.25 and $1.6 per sq km. Compare this cost per kilometer with a patrol car with rangers that costs about $140 per sq km. Dogs are an efficient and effective method of protection and deterrent.

Protecting the dogs

Highly trained and active dogs need care by professional handlers, but there are many challenges they face every day. The biggest threat to dogs in east Africa,  the Tsetse fly that carries Trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease that can kill dogs and has claimed many lives. The handlers have to take the dogs temperature twice a day, keep historical records, if they are entering a intense Tsetse fly area, the dogs are protected in fly proof mobile kennels and are covered in Jungle Formula, a lotion that seems to repel the flies. If the flies get too intense, the handlers will pull the dogs or the track.

On a track, the dogs lead with the handler right behind, following them are the security teams, but the two in the lead are very exposed to retaliation from poachers, an ambush or coming across any wild animal that takes offence to them. This needs confident and professional people who care passionately for the dogs well-being.

A Dog’s Best Friend

Honeyguides dog handlers receive elite training and always have the consummate support of the best in veterinary and conservation services. But it is their deep love for the dogs themselves that ensures their constant care and guidance. Men like Shinini Mayangui (head of the Tarangire-Manyara units) and Emmanuel Laizer (head of the Serengeti unit) embody the title of dog’s best friend, and thus a poacher’s worst enemy.

What we want to do

Continue with what is working so well, sharing the cost of the K9 units over large landscapes between different conservation partners is an affordable, innovative and highly effective solution to the protection of wildlife- keeping wildlife safe and thriving.

The African Wildlife Foundation is a partner with Honeyguide in our work; all our K9 programs in the Serengeti, Manyara Ranch and Mkomazi are a joint effort with Honeyguide, TANAPA and the African Wildlife Foundation.

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