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.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

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.

Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

M&G’s latest Covid-19 projections

Covid-19 numbers are prompting disaster declarations and dramatic action across South Africa this week. All steps should be directed by numbers

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories