Sniffing out trouble at SA ports

SARS DDU2A gruelling four months of training came to an end during May 2015 as 33 Customs officers and their detector dogs graduated from the SARS Detector Dog Training Academy. A graduation ceremony was held in Pretoria. It was the culmination of a training course where officers were, together with their canine charges, were trained in the finer aspects of the detection of illegal substances and goods in vehicles, vessels, aircraft, containers, cargo, mail, rail, luggage and buildings.

“The substances that they would be able to detect are explosives, firearms and ammunition in addition to narcotics such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis, mandrax, crystal meth and ecstasy,” states Hugo Taljaard, Senior Manager for the Detector Dog Unit (DDU). “They will also be able to find rhino horn, ivory, wet or dry abalone, crayfish and lion bones. This also extends to currency, tobacco products, copper wire and cell phones,” he added.

The training began in January 2015 and covered both practical and physical aspects. The following modules were accomplished during the development programme:

  1. Bonding and socialisation phase with the dog.
  2. Imprinting of substances.
  3. Paramilitary Drill – Salute and Compliment.
  4. Practical search and detect training on vehicles, vessels, aircraft, containers, cargo, mail, rail, luggage and buildings
  5. Physical training – dog and handling – Theoretical training on identification and handling of narcotics and endangered species; Dog conditioning process; Basic animal behavior; and General dog care.
  6. Change of environment training at land ports of entry.
  7. Formal assessment.

After this training, detector dog units will be established in Mpumalanga (Lebombo Detector Dog Unit), Northern Cape (Nakop Detector Dog Unit), and Northern Cape (Vioolsdrif Detector Dog Unit) to support SARS’ strategic objective to increase customs compliance at ports of entry.

Currently, all SARS DDU recruitment is sourced from within the organisation.

Visit the Servamus website (a community-based safety and security website and magazine) for an article published on Customs Detector Dog Unit – “Sniffing out trouble at SA ports” (May 2015 Edition). Source: SARS and

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Custom’s Detector Dog Unit boosted by 52 new teams

SARS Customs North West Detector Dog Unit handlers. [SARS]

SARS Customs North West Detector Dog Unit handlers. [SARS]

Fifty two dogs and handlers were trained and deployed in the first phase of the SARS Customs Detector Dog Unit’s (DDU) capacity building programme. Trainees were for units from Limpopo, North West and Mpumulanga, Or Tambo International Airport and Durban. “This figure includes new dog handlers, replacement of old or sick dogs and refresher training of dogs not up to the required working standard, explained Hugo Taljaard, the senior manager of Custom’s Detector Dog Unit.

There are now 90 regionally based detector dogs and handlers deployed in the country. Most dogs are dual trained to detect different substances and /or goods. They have the capacity to detect the following substances/goods hidden in vehicles, vessels, aircraft, cargo, containers, mail, rail, luggage and buildings:

  • Explosives, firearms and ammunition
  • Narcotics (Mandrax, heroin, crystal meth, cocaine, cannabis and Ecstasy)
  • Endangered species (Rhino horn, ivory, wet / dry abalone, crayfish and lion bones)
  • Currency
  • DVDs
  • Copper wire
  • Tobacco products
  • Cell phones.

At the end of phase 1, which ran from April 2013 to January 2014, a ceremony was held in Zeerust to hand out certificates to the members of the newly-formed North West Detector Dog Unit.

“The commitment, passion and drive of the trainees must be acknowledged as this contributed to the successful training of the new handlers and dogs. The teams performed extremely well, achieving pass rates ranging from between 92% to 99.80% and this could only be achieved with positive team work and the drive to go the extra mile and make a difference. The teams proved their commitment in playing an impactful role in the prevention of smuggling,” Hugo said.

The cooperation between different government agencies also played a major role in the successful training and operational deployment of the Customs dogs and handlers during Phase 1 and will continue during Phase 2 and 3, he added.

Phase 2 of the programme is planned to get underway on 7 April 2014 with the establishment of three new units – at Port Elizabeth, Ladybrand and Ermelo.

The DDU has been a major success story for SARS in recent years, providing expert training to several Customs and Border agencies in the region. The topic has also invoked significant interest amongst readers and followers of this blog. It needs to be stressed, however, that the recruitment and deployment of dog trainers in SARS is currently all achieved through training and up-skilling of officers within the organisation. No external recruitment drives have occurred. The nature and extent of Customs Modernisation places SARS in the fortunate position of being able to redeploy staff to specialised roles such as the DDU.

Source: SARS

Detector dog unit expanding its paw print across the country!

On a subject close to my heart. The National Detector Dog Unit of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is getting a boost with more than 70 new dogs and handlers being trained to make up a number of new dog units around the country. Apart from filling a couple of current vacancies, the new recruits will form part of Detector Dog Units in Port Elizabeth, Zeerust, Mahamba, Vioolsdrift, Nakop, Maseru Bridge and an expanded Mpumalanga unit. All the additional units are expected to become operational in the first quarter of 2013.

“By next year, most of the major land, sea and air ports should have their own detector dog units (DDU),” said the senior manager of the DDU, Hugo Taljaard. “The ultimate aim is to have dog units at every port, with a total of 500 new handlers and dogs needed. However, this is a long-term (four-year) project, aimed at enhancing our non-intrusive capabilities at ports of entry to prevent cross-border smuggling.”

The SARS Detector Dog Unit has also been asked recently to assist with training in Namibia and Angola, following the assistance we gave the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) to establish a Detector Dog capability. The DDU continues to see major successes countrywide, with a recent copper bust in the news last weekend.

Detector dog Umaga, an 18-month old German Shepherd, sniffed out 84kg of copper at the Beit Bridge border post during his first operation. Umaga recently completed his training as a copper sniffer dog. The copper was concealed in luggage in a trailer entering South Africa. Umaga is the second sniffer dog to be trained to sniff out copper. Milo, a five-year-old Labrador, has also already nosed out his first contraband copper. There has been an increase in the smuggling of copper wire across the border into South Africa, since copper has a much higher value here than in the other member states of the Southern African Development Community. The increase has meant that Customs has had to beef up its ability to detect contraband copper. The wire is usually concealed in compartments under trucks.

The Detector Dog Unit was the first in the world to train “dual application dogs”, Hugo explained. So instead of being trained or “imprinted” to detect only one scent, they are able to detect a combination of scents, e.g. narcotics and currency, tobacco and endangered species. Both Milo and Umaga are dual dogs and they can detect narcotics/tobacco and copper wire. The explosives detector dogs are the only dogs not dual trained due to the safety risk.

The dogs are an integral part of our Customs workforce and are seen as officers in their own right. They are therefore looked after with the utmost care and attention and are even provided with special reflector jackets, cooler jackets for the heat and dog shoes made to protect their feet from hot surfaces. Source: SARS Communications Division