By Oliver Poole
The attack dog was 200 yards away, its head just visible through the tips of the long grass in which it crouched.
I had already been warned that it weighed 100lbs and once it reached full speed it would be travelling at 35mph. Most disturbing of all was that its jaw had a biting strength of 40 pounds per square inch.
“He will go for the arm,” the dog’s handler had told me. “Then, if the person struggles, its teeth will shred the whole arm down to the wrist bone.”
I had been fitted with a full body bite suit, which I was assured offered guaranteed protection. But, whatever the supposed effectiveness of the specialist clothing, the reality was that I now stood alone in the midst of an African savannah waiting for a dog to charge me – impossible not to dwell on the impact of those teeth.
I found myself in this situation as I had come to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the central Kenyan district of Laikipia to see the work done by the Space for Giants charity, the subject of this year’s Independent Christmas campaign.
Ol Pejeta has some of the world’s most threatened wildlife: not only elephants, but also rhinoceroses, including four of the only seven northern white rhino still in existence. That means they are constantly under attack from poachers.
To combat this, Space for Giants and its partners have had to put together their own defence force. So serious is the threat, and so ruthless the poachers, that training the teams that now patrol the conservancy is a former sergeant-major in the SAS who only recently left the regiment after 27 years’ service.
The business of protecting wildlife has now become an extremely professional and militarised affair. The rangers, all reservists in the Kenyan police force, have the latest weaponry, primarily the German-made G3 rifle.
A rapid-response team can be deployed in a helicopter at the first sign of trouble. Motion detectors and even unmanned drones are being considered to try to stop the poaching gangs, who are slaughtering 100 elephants across Africa a day and are quite willing to kill any rangers who try to stop then.
This is why anti-poaching measures make up one of the key areas to which money donated by Independent readers will be focused, along with helping establish a new East African conservancy, local community outreach, and GPS tracking to gain a better understanding of elephant movement patterns. More....