Epic noses: Check.

Heavy-duty chompers: Check.

Stout hearts: You better believe it.

Meet the dogs of Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy, who help staff at this renowned park combat the poaching of some of East Africa's most imperilled wildlife.

One of the trained anti-poaching dogs at Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy gives chase during a mock-up poaching incident. Scroll down for the full video.

Since 2013, Ol Pejeta's K-9 unit has been sniffing out illegal hunting camps and actively apprehending poachers across 90,000 sprawling acres on the Laikipia Plateau between the Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya.

Poaching – especially aimed at rhino horns and elephant ivory – is a constant threat at Ol Pejeta, which encompasses wildlife-rich grasslands, acacia bush, riverine forest and wetlands on the grounds of a former cattle ranch. This wilderness is now the biggest refuge in East Africa for the black rhinoceros, and it's also home to the only remaining northern white rhinos in the world: three animals known as Sudan, Najin and Fatu.

The conservancy also boasts one of the densest concentrations of carnivores in Kenya (the vanishing African wild dog is on the roster), and a rehabilitation sanctuary for chimpanzees rescued from the black market. Elephants of the greater Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem seasonally inhabit Ol Pejeta as well.

The anti-poaching K-9 squad here currently consists of eight human handlers and a team of dogs, including bloodhounds and Dutch Malinois. With their celebrated schnozzes, the former are experts at tracking down illegal activities. "[Bloodhounds] have a very strong sense of smell and can be on the trail for three days," said John Tekeles, head of the conservancy's anti-poaching unit. "This is essential when pursuing leads."

The stars of the unit, though, would have to be the Malinois.


Originally bred for herding, these lithe, smart and vivacious balls of muscle are used worldwide in security, law enforcement, and search-and-rescue. They also serve some high-profile roles: the United States Secret Service employs the dogs to patrol the White House grounds, for example, and in 2011 a Malinois joined the U.S. Navy SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

For all their explosive strength and potential ferocity, Malinois are also loving, well-behaved, people-friendly canines – qualities that make them the perfect choice for Ol Pejeta, where the K-9 unit works among conservancy visitors and the residents of surrounding communities.

The Malinois here are trained for "triple-role" purposes as patrollers, trackers and attack dogs. "This flexibility is essential given the ever-changing situations that we face on the ground as we do our security operations," said Tekeles.

The canines faithfully sniff out bullet caches, carcasses and poacher pathways, but their most intense task is actually going toe-to-toe with the poachers themselves. As you can see in this video from the Elephant Ignite Expedition, training the dogs for this work can be pretty darn intense for their devoted handlers, too.

Unleashed on a poacher who has refused ranger orders to surrender, the Malinois launch themselves at breathtaking speed and go aerial to snag the offender's weapon-toting arm. As this YaleEnvironment360 article notes, the dogs' jaws exert biting pressure of a whopping 1,400 pounds per square inch, which means a Malinois-latched poacher is handily detained – and unable to fire – while Ol Pejeta rangers rush in for the arrest.

The hard work of the Ol Pejeta dogs and their human cohorts has paid off. "The presence of the dogs has created an enormous deterrence effect around us. Poachers now think twice about coming to Ol Pejeta because of the dogs and the publicity that has surrounded them," the conservancy's CEO Richard Vigne told Yale360.

Obedient, fast and equipped with such a formidable sense of smell, pooches are increasingly being used to fight poaching and black-market wildlife trade all across Africa.

Malinois and German shepherds literally descend upon poachers from helicopters in South Africa. The snuffling noses of Malinois in the Republic of Congo's Odzala-Kokona National Park uncover contraband ivory and bushmeat. Mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the famed Virunga National Park have a "dogged" ally in a team of bloodhounds – they're nicknamed "Congohounds" – that help rangers locate poachers.

Back at Ol Pejeta, meanwhile, visitors can actually go behind the scenes with the K-9 unit. Besides touring the kennels, you can try your hand at eluding the resident bloodhounds – a fun (and likely fruitless) game on your part, and one more bit of valuable training for these four-legged conservation warriors.



This article has been edited to correct the name of the breed. According to Ol Pejeta, the dogs are Dutch Malinois, not Belgian Malinois. 

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