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