The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
The illegal cross-border trade in animals and plants, has transformed into one of the largest organised criminal activities on the planet and the hidden danger of trade and consumption of exotic species is becoming a growing global concern. Markets that engage in unregulated trade in live wild animals and animal products in primary consumer countries such as China, sell everything from hedgehogs to crocodiles, the trade of which, along with 54 other wildlife species, are considered legal in that country.
This doesn’t even include the illegal trade of rhino horn, pangolin scales and elephant tusks, which are propagated by hubs that trade in exotic species for consumption. With the outbreak of various viruses in recent years, attributed to a leap from animals to humans, illicit wildlife trade might also no longer just pose a threat to the eradication of wildlife species and the irrevocable damage of ecosystems, but also be jeopardising the stability of global health and world economies.
That is why counter-trafficking initiatives such as the Mozambique Canine Unit that operates in and from Maputo International Airport, are crucial to the fight against wildlife crime. The specialised team of detection dogs and their handlers, better known as the National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) K9 Unit, provide critical support to law enforcement activities, sniffing out contraband leading to the arrest of traffickers and the disruption of smuggling routes. The unit works in close collaboration with the Mozambican Police, the National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) and Customs.
In Mozambique, criminal syndicates exploit the country’s port and road networks to move illegal wildlife products from South Africa and other southern African countries to southeast Asia and beyond. In 2018, Peace Parks Foundation partnered with African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to support Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) in responding to this threat by establishing and operating a specialized detection dog unit. Since then, the detection dogs have been used mainly to perform routine searches at the Maputo airport’s international departures terminal.
“The canine unit works very intensively in the airport, where they’ve inspected the luggage of more than 180,000 passengers in their time here. No cases of rhino horn or ivory trafficking have been detected – a testament to the contribution of the unit to deterring trafficking activity, as no-one has dared to risk being caught by the dogs in possession of such high value species. The dogs have, however, been instrumental in identifying various other illegal contraband, such as a recent find of dried seahorses. They have gained the respect and trust of both the public and our law enforcement personnel.”
Carlos Lopes Pereira, Head of Law Enforcement and Anti-poaching, ANAC
On Thursday, 13 February 2020, Peace Parks and African Wildlife Foundation further enhanced the capabilities of the unit by providing ANAC with a custom-built canine transport vehicle. The new vehicle allows the dogs to be safely and securely moved to the cargo terminal and other critical points along the country’s most notorious trafficking routes – thereby expanding the operational footprint and impact of the unit.
“Because of the scale and urgency of this poaching threat, Peace Parks has partnered with likeminded organisations to complement and enhance our collective efforts before it is too late. We are proud to partner with ANAC, the Mozambique Airports Company and AWF in realising this significant achievement. We foresee that the K9 Unit will continue to be an important tool to shut down trafficking of illicit wildlife products out of the airport and with our partner support, this initiative can only go from strength to strength, disrupting the criminal syndicate supply chains and stopping the plunder of our unique African wildlife,” says Peace Parks’ Tumelo Matjekane, Project Manager for Combatting Wildlife Crime.
Dr Nakedi Maputla, Senior Conservation Scientist at AWF added: “The introduction of the vehicle is an important step in the journey that ANAC in partnership with Peace Parks and AWF is undertaking. At AWF we believe this will enable us to measure and demonstrate success in the long run. AWF is here with you to help ensure that the wildlife of Mozambique, her neighbours and the entire continent of Africa thrives and contributes meaningfully to our people’s development.”
The K9 Unit provides yet another layer to multi-faceted initiatives to combat wildlife crime all along the so-called “supply chain. The work of the unit is aimed at deterring illegal activity in the first place through the disruption of trafficking activities, as well as catching syndicate members who instigate the perpetration of crimes, before they exit Africa and become extremely difficult to trace. With every item of contraband found and secured, and if supported by an effective prosecutorial process, a wildlife criminal is taken out of the system. This means fewer illegal wildlife products reaching the market – bringing the world one step closer to ultimately securing the future of many endangered wildlife species.
The ANAC K9 Unit is one of numerous initiatives that Peace Parks Foundation supports as part of the organisation’s multifaceted and sophisticated Rhino Protection Programme. The Foundation has a holistic approach to combatting wildlife crime, which focusses on disrupting the entire ‘supply chain’ of wildlife trade by: enhancing protected area support on the ground; halting illegal trade through counter-trafficking activities; and reducing the demand through awareness and behavioural change campaigns. With dedicated anti-poaching staff who support park rangers on the ground, leveraging cutting edge technology to have long-term impact rapidly and at scale, and by facilitating enhanced cross-border collaboration between the anti-poaching teams of Kruger National Park in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique as part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, significant successes has been achieved in contributing to a reduction in the number of rhino poached. The latest rhino poaching statistics released by South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries is testament to that, with 594 rhinos poached nationally in 2019, compared to 769 in the previous year.
In Mozambique, Peace Parks Foundation has also clamped down on poaching of other wildlife in Maputo Special Reserve, Banhine, Zinave and Limpopo national parks, where the Foundation works closely with ANAC to strengthen park management and anti-poaching strategies.