Bloodhounds the latest weapon against ivory and bushmeat poachers

The Times of London
Nairobi, Kenya

Slobbering, panting and blinking in the dawn light, the latest weapon in the fight against poachers emerged from the belly of a Kenya Airways jumbo jet.

Packed in two wooden crates, Pension and Drastic, two six-year-old British bloodhounds, got their first glimpse of Kenya last week as they began their new lives helping to protect the country’s wildlife.

After years of decline, poaching is on the increase, and the dogs will be deployed to hunt ivory and bushmeat poachers across a landscape famous for its elephants and home to Kenya’s last remaining population of wild black rhinos.

Richard Bonham, 54, founder of the Maasailand Preservation Trust, which patrols 1.5 million acres of bush-covered hills and plains in southeast Kenya, met the new arrivals at Nairobi airport.

“The bloodhounds definitely have a big impact on poaching. They are a very effective tool,” he said, pouring a bowl of milk for each thirsty hound.

Mr Bonham has been using bloodhounds to track poachers since 2006 but three months ago one of them, Judy, died of sleeping sickness, leaving her brother alone.

“Bosco really lost his vigour when Judy died,” said Mr Bonham. “They need company to work well.”

After hearing of Bosco’s plight, Giles Sim, a British holidaymaker on a horseback safari in the Chyulu Hills, where Mr Bonham’s conservation efforts are based, offered to find a companion. “After the second gin and tonic I said, ‘Never mind, old chap, I’ll send you a couple of bloodhounds’,” recalled Mr Sim, a former Master of the East Essex Hunt. Three months on, and one of the dogs will join Bosco in the Amboseli area, while the other will go to Lewa, in central Kenya.

They will sniff out poachers, tracking them through the thick bush, long grass and petrified lava flows that makes following even fresh footprints tricky. “We used to follow tracks on the ground, but the dogs take it to another level,” said Mr Bonham. Bloodhounds have been responsible for the arrests of dozens of poachers in Kenya, saving countless wild animals.

To help the hounds to cover the vast territory of the Amboseli reserve, Tsavo National Park and the Chyulu Hills, the British wildlife charity Tusk funds the programme, even providing a light aircraft to get the dogs to the scene of poaching. “The dogs are highly effective, as they can track for several days after an incident,” said Charlie Mayhew, Tusk’s founder.

Poachers range from hungry locals killing for the pot, to well- funded gangs engaged in large-scale ivory hunting. A recent report by Cynthia Moss, a conservationist with the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, warned: “The situation for elephants in the area has become critical over the past year.” Some blame Chinese workers, arriving in large numbers in recent years to build roads, railways and dams in infrastructure-for-minerals deals. Patrick Omondi, head of species conservation at Kenya Wildlife Service, said: “There has been an upsurge in poaching and we associate this with the Chinese.”

Thousands of elephants are killed every year to supply a market driven by demand from Asia. Last year more than 100 tonnes of tusks were sold exclusively to Chinese and Japanese buyers in the first legal ivory auction in nine years. Conservationists blame the auction for encouraging poachers.