By Dave Butler [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/) via flickr

Kenya’s national parks are some of Earth’s last natural paradises, this is why it’s even more important to protect the endless savannahs with their innumerable animals. Every year, from September to November, more than one million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, antelopes and many other animals walk across the border from Tanzania to Kenya. Unfortunately, the big animal migration attracts not only tourists but also poachers.

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The poachers trap the animals with snares or chase them into valleys where they kill them with machetes. Their meat is then exported to Uganda and Rwanda. In many cases, poachers zero in on the ivory of the elephants, which is especially popular in China. At the moment, about 35,000 elephants get killed in Afrika every year, that’s 10% of the current population – if slaughter continues as it does now, there will be no more free living elephants in Africa within the next 15 years, experts say. But also illegal trade of lions, rhinos and other wild animals is common.

 

By Marcel Oosterwijk [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)] via flickr

For several years, tracking dogs have been trained to track poachers in the savannah of southwestern Kenya: Asuka Takita is a veterinarian of the non-profit organization Mara Conservancy in the 1510km² Masai Mara Reserve, which connects directly to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. No other reserve has a many different species and individual animals as this one. Asuka Takita said that in the last 18 years they have discovered a total of 4,000 poachers “without them (her and her team) thousands of animals would not have survived”. Ironically, however, only veterinarians employed by the government are allowed to treat wildlife, which is why the 41-year-old spends most of her time to working with the tracking dogs.

By Adam Dimmick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)] via flickr

She started with a vaccination program for local dogs in the Mara, which is still continued by her assistants: every year over 8000 dogs are vaccinated against rabies and dog canine, which are the major diseases near the reserve and can transfer on lions for example.

 

 

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The tracking dog work has began in 2008, and until 2017 this project was able to track down around 150 poachers. At that time, they just had two dogs – Asuka Takati had tried to contact several people worldwide over the Internet, who had experience with tracking dogs, without any success. Only one woman from the US replied to her: Linda Porter. She had been working with dogs with her husband for more than 40 years and agreed to help Takati with her project. The couple received money to buy two puppies and then trained them for half a year for free until they traveled with them to Kenya and met with Takati. Although the dogs were well trained for their hometown, they did not cope with African impressions and smells like those of an elephant, lion or leopard. From then on it was clear that  they had to breed and train their own dogs in the Mara.

 

https://i1.wp.com/nomadmagazine.co/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/vet-life.jpg?w=720&ssl=1 (© ASUKA TAKITA)

Today, the dog unit consists of several tracking dogs and detection dogs trained on sniffing ivory and weapons, and of course their caregivers. The rangers were not at too happy about the dogs at first because they thought they would take their jobs. Since they realizd that the dogs are like a helpful “weapon” to combat poaching, they work with them together enthusiastically.

 

The most fun thing for Takati about the work with the tracking dogs is to run with them through the wilderness in search of the poachers: this tracking work is “pure adrenaline” because you never know what to expect, be it animals or poachers. The work “in the bush” means a lot of work day and night, often Takati does not even know what day or time it is. She says that when she is not in the reserve for a break, she misses Masai Mara and wants to go back.

 

By Tal Atlas [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)] via flickr

Together with Airi Yamawaki, Takita founded the non-profit organization Tears of the African Elephant in 2012 – both of them are Japanese and have lived in Africa for a long time. Their goal is to save wildlife and make it still accessible for our descendants.

In addition to the dog unit, Tears of the Elephant supports other projects, such as a beekeeping project, the No Ivory Generation project, the “Fangless Elephant Rema” picture book project or a rhino project, for which they also need financial support in form of donations ,

By Ray in Manila [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)] via flickr

The improved security situation benefits not only the animals, but also the tourists: in the past, foreigners were regularly robbed, today the park guards work together with the villagers and the crime has fallen sharply. Tourism is very important for the African National Parks in order to continue paying the responsable rangers for animal protection.