by Jeremy Swanson in Tanzania
For more than seven hours, the Big Life Tanzania tracker dogs, Rocky and Jerry, followed the scent trail of the elephant poachers. Supported by a joint team of rangers, Rocky and Jerry tracked the poachers across the savannah, along steep ridges, and over hilly woodlands.
It was Valentine’s Day, but a day filled more with heartbreak than happiness. Earlier in the week, poachers had killed an elephant bull in a critical area of the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.
After a five hour drive from West Kilimanjaro, the Dog Unit went to work the following dawn, and took no time in picking up the odor. It took seven hours, but the dogs led the rangers to the hidden stash of ivory. The two tusks weighed some 58 kilograms in total.
It is unclear as to whether or not the poachers had abandoned the tusks during a chase or hidden them for later recovery. Joint investigations, as to the poachers’ identities and whereabouts, are ongoing. Three other elephants have been killed in the area this year.
The Big Life Dog Unit has become one of the most successful operations in the fight against poaching. Rocky and Jerry have served in successful joint operations in the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area, Burunge WMA, Manyara Ranch, Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park, Kilimanjaro National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and other cross-border locations.
“The Dog Unit goes to show how a small well-disciplined team can have a big impact on poaching,” said Big Life Tanzania's Project Manager, Damian Bell. “New technology is critical but sometimes old technologies, like man’s best friend, still have relevance and are needed now more than ever in Tanzania."
“As usual, Rocky, Jerry, and the ranger teams did a wonderful job,” said Lembris Kephas, who leads the Dog Unit. “I only wish we had sniffer dogs stationed closer to the area, so we might have been able to catch the poachers themselves.”
Actually, with the successful current reduction in poaching in the West Kilimanjaro area that the Big Life-funded rangers and dogs unit patrols (zero elephants killed in the West Kili area in 2013), the dogs are indeed going to be stationed sometimes in the Tarangire/Manyara area, where the poaching remains a significant problem.
To help support Big Life’s tracker dogs, please donate at www.biglife.org