Upon returning to Nairobi, I have the pleasure to attend the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Carnivore Conference. On the morning of October 28th, Mandela drives Elena, Sarah, and I across town to the Kenya Wildlife Service Headquarters in Nairobi. We join a group of about 50 other attendees – mixed Kenyan and international – who work for diverse conservation organizations focusing on carnivores. The crowd includes KWS rangers and officers, Tanzanian representatives, national and international students conducting research in Kenya, and members/coordinators of various conservation organizations including Ewaso Lions, Action for Cheetahs, and Lion Guardians. The first day is primarily talks and updates from KWS and various carnivore conservation programs and is concluded by discussing and coming up with a theme for the next conference (land use and conservation) and re-emphasizing the need for more research on disease and hyenas, which are a primary conflict species but not particularly well studied. The second day consists more of collaborative discussion as representatives come together to review the Cheetah and African Wild Dog National Action Plan and update the Kenya cheetah and African wild dog range maps. The conference, though formal, is a valuable opportunity for me to learn about conservation programs in Kenya, the benefits and challenges, and the areas where research is lacking.
Come the beginning of November, I meet Mary Wykstra, director of Action
for Cheetahs in Kenya, for the first time. She has returned home from a three-month fundraising stint in the United States, where she traveled from conference to conference to talk about Action for Cheetahs to potential donors and supporters across the states. With her is Maddy, the 6 month old rottie-collie mix and scat-detection dog in training, home from the Wells Fargo training kennels. I am met by both with enthusiasm, and Mary quickly becomes an invaluable source of advice and information.
On November 2nd, Mary, Suzanne, Madi, and I all pile into the truck and drive to the posh Ole Serena hotel conference room in Nairobi for the three day African Conservation Dog Summit. There are approximately 40-50 attendees present each day, both nationals and foreigners, including handlers, trainers, conservationists, law enforcers, veterinarians, representatives from various NGOs/NPs, and KWS officers. These people and organizations hail from many different regions, including various countries in East Africa, the United States, England, Germany, Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Israel, with projects based in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, and Sudan. The programs for the summit cover numerous topics including health (canine disease prevention and care), snare removal, canine training, wildlife trade and traffic enforcement, scat detection, and genetics studies. On the first day, the first half of the conference is talks by these various organizations, and the second half consists of breaking up into several groups for workshops and discussions. Maddy attends with us on the first day of the conference to act as an example specimen for the veterinary workshop on proper canine health checks, bandaging, and care. He makes for an excellent, cooperative model.
While detection dog work is something I’ve always been aware of, it is not something I have really considered much in terms of a career. However, this conference is both engaging and interesting, and the attendees, in my opinion, are far more approachable than at the KWS conference. I am able to talk with many of the people in the organization during the breaks and over the delicious buffet lunches provided by the conference, including Chris Ayeoch of the American Society of Canine Trainers and Naftali Honig of PALF. The American Society of Canine Trainers is a training facility and organization which trains and certifies handlers, trainers, and dogs in almost any canine-related field, including detection, tracking, security, therapy, and assistance. The training program seems like a very interesting and potential field of interest for me, as it would provide me with the ability to become a trainer and work internationally for various conservation organizations that are interested in launching a program of illegal wildlife trade detection or poacher tracking. An additional perk – it pays! PALF, the Project for the Application of Law for Fauna, is a wildlife-crime investigation and enforcement organization based in the Republic of Congo that has recently developed a detection dog program and has been using dogs to uncover illegal wildlife trade (bushmeat, ivory, pangolin scales, etc.) along the major highway. They have had numerous challenges, particularly in terms of tracking poachers in the dense tropical forests of central Africa, but their new program has already been met with several successful arrests. PALF, as a relatively new program, functions primarily off the help of volunteers, and so I talk with Honig about potentially coming over in August after the conservation tour in Kenya from July to early August and volunteering with them for a month or two.
Overall, the conferences have been an invaluable and fascinating introduction to the various conservation projects in and around Kenya and all the amazing work that these projects and organizations are doing for the benefit of East African wildlife.