Dogged determination catches smugglers

How do rhino horns leave South Africa and get to foreign shores? Quite simply, trafficking is largely done through commercial airports.

To tackle this problem, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT)Rhino Project focused on these smuggling routes by deploying sniffer dogs at OR Tambo International and training more than 100 airport officials.  

Woe betide the smugglers when sniffer dogs Rico and Condor are on guard – they will find even a tiny molecule of rhino horn. Kirsty Brebner, the project manager, says it was a matter of weeks before smugglers stopped using the routes patrolled by dogs.

“Rico found two rhino horns, ivory and elephant skin. We have shut down the use of air freight cargo for smuggling,” she says.

Rico and three friends are deployed at OR Tambo and will soon guard Lanseria Airport too. One dog patrols a private reserve.

Warwick Wragg, head of the dog unit, says it once had a dog called “The Professor” who could differentiate between 72 different kinds of explosives in cargo.

“The EWT is the first NGO using sniffer dogs against poachers,” says Brebner. “Law enforcement is not our remit, so as soon as our dogs find something we alert the police.” 

The organisation moved on to the next level by putting 155 law enforcement officials through a five-day, accredited course. They included members of the police services, revenue services, department of agriculture, provincial nature conservation agencies, the Green Scorpions and scanner operators at OR Tambo.

Other practical interventions have seen more than 400 security booklets donated to private rhino owners, game reserve managers and law enforcement personnel. The manual urges daily patrols of water points and feeding spots, and warns about staff being bribed for information.

“We meet state prosecutors and magistrates to highlight wildlife crime and appropriate penalties. We also support provincial conservation agencies and selected private reserves with fuel and equipment,” says Brebner.

The project also set up training for the rehabilitation of rhino orphans and the treatment of injured adults, in collaboration with Karen Trendler’s Working Wild organisation.

It also raised funding for equipment at the faculty of veterinary science at Onderstepoort to support field interventions for injured rhino.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.

Related stories

Tilting at smokestacks in south Durban

Desmond D’Sa has rallied the community of Durban south in a fight for health

Ambassador for the planet

Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko is working to advance the position of developing countries

Filth to football

Community Conservation Award - Runner-up: Go Green and Clean

National parrot project saves forests

Biodiversity Stewardship Award - Winner: iziKhwenene Project

Education for a changing world

Skills for Sustainability Award - Runner-up: Delta Environmental Centre

An unfinished story

Rhino Conservation Award - Runner-up: Wildlands Conservation Trust

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday