Wild In Africa is incredibly proud to support Invictus K9’s unique and effective fight against wildlife crime. Their specialized canine units track suspected poachers, as well as search for and indicate the presence of illegal wildlife products, firearms and ammunition in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.
Our intern, Taylor, had the chance to interview Invictus K9 founders, Michael Hensman and Jay Crafter, and to learn more about their journey, passion, projects, the incredible stories that marked their collaboration and of course, their inimitable personalities.
This is the first part of our journey to the discovery of Invictus K9: How it all began!
Jay and Mike both grew up in Zimbabwe, where the wildlife is very much part of everyday life. They would frequently go on holiday to the national parks.
Jay’s grandfather was the provisional Warden of Gonarezhou National Park where he used to spend time before the park was even open to the public, which inspired Invictus K9’s work in the same reserve a few years later.
The old man and the CAMPFIRE
Mike’s father, Rory, used to spend a lot of time in the Zambezi valley and felt like communities should always play a big part in the effort to conserve wildlife. Without involvement from the communities, there was an increased motivation to poach. Rory wanted to find a way for communities to benefit from wildlife, and thus be motivated to preserve it. He was amongst a group of people who pioneered the CAMPFIRE concept. The Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources was the first community-based wildlife conservation project to approach wildlife as a renewable, profitable resource. It served as a model for some of the conservencies Rory established as well as other indigenous conservation projects in Africa.
Jay first got into dog training after he left school to join the British Army. He qualified as a Class 1 trainer with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and trained working dog teams for the US Special Operations Command, as well as several US Police Departments before focusing on conservation efforts in Africa.
Mike qualified in Environmental Sciences and built his career in wildlife management, gaining conservation experience with several species and training dogs to contribute to anti-poaching and law enforcement operations across Southern Africa.
Jay and Mike got to know each other after doing some joint dog training and got along well.
But according to Jay it went far deeper than that... “There is a story from the first time I knew I liked Mikey. We were at a hotel, sitting outside having some beers, and Mike decided he wanted to go for a swim. So he stripped down to his shorts and got into the pool. The best part was when a family came and sat down right near us, and Mike didn’t care at all. From there we got closer professionally and became great friends. He also makes great tea, but he puts the milk in with the bag. But, yeah, Mikey said he would only work with me if we were the best. And here we are.”
A story of friendship, respect, complementarity and lots of fun!
This story and specifically the tea genius part, have laid the foundation of their friendship and the creation of Invictus K9.
According to them, what they’ve achieved so far and their success is due to their hard work, obviously, but the trust and chemistry between them, as well as their complementarity is the real key!
While Jay is bringing his military approach to the combo and can be, as he said, a bit “cookie cut” sometimes, Mike comes from a different angle - “Mikey has a quiet leadership and really analyzes what we do and how we do it. He's one of the few people in the industry that can actually get me to hit the pause button, which goes against my training, background and nature.” - it’s this kind of example that shows how they balance each other in the right direction.
“What makes us successful is how we complement each other [...] And I am 100% confident, we wouldn't be where we are today if it was just one of us doing it, either one of us.” - Jay
Since Jay and Mike have been working together, they have built a relationship based on a profound respect for each other. “Mike is one of the best animal trainers I've ever met in my life. He’s got really good intuition and I'm not just talking about dogs. Block your ears, Mike! I am completely comfortable being in the bush with him with other animals and situations [...] I trust Mike wholeheartedly.”
This kind of spirit that Jay and Mike are sharing made us understand their willingness to contribute to wildlife protection and “be able to do something to protect it and ensure that other people are also able to experience it.”
But more than anything and what it is all about: “Mike does make good tea, just want to reiterate that. Genuinely the best ideas, concepts, training plans and operational successes that we have had, started off with a cup of tea and some brainstorming.”
More of these legends to come soon… Watch this space for part 2!
You can also get involved and show your support to Mike, Jay and Invictus K9’s incredible work by purchasing a Wild In Africa Invictus K9 bracelet.
Regalite was chosen as this stone beautifully depicts the colours of the Belgian Malinois, often used for anti-poaching work. 🐕🦏
50% of the purchase price is donated directly to Invictus K9!