Mechem dogs a hit in Africa


Specialist de-mining company Mechem sold approximately 120 dogs to African customers last year, to be used for the detection of a wide range of substances, including drugs, animal parts, explosives and even currency.

Ashley Williams, Mechem General Manager, told defenceWeb that there is a lot of interest out of Africa for dogs and training. In the last year, the company has supplied dogs and training to Namibia, Zambia, Benin, Botswana, Kenya and Angola as well as the United Nations. He said the Kenyans were very impressed with the performance of Mechem dogs, especially in the aftermath of the Westgate Mall attack.

Mechem has around a hundred dogs being trained and prepared for clients and around 50 of its own dogs that are used on company deployments.

Mechem dogs are well known for their ability to detect land mines and explosives and have been deployed to assist with explosives clearing in places like South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the dogs’ special skills are increasingly being used for the detection of drugs and other smuggled contraband such as rhino horn, ivory and abalone.

Mechem has developed a unique system to combine modern technology with the canine capabilities to search for and uncover smuggled substances. The Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System (MEDDS) involves collecting air samples from suspicious containers and vehicles and taking them to the dogs in a controlled environment. When the dogs confirm the suspicion investigators take further steps to physically inspect the consignment.

Williams said there was a lot of interest in the company’s MEDDS system, which he said was very successfully used when assisting police. The system has been used in a few African countries.

Mechem has trained dogs to detect money with the aim of catching people smuggling currency and has recorded successes in Africa, with several million dollars being detected by the dogs. Williams said the currency sniffing dogs were “very successful”.

In South Africa, Mechem dogs are working at Cape Town International Airport and Oliver R Tambo International Airport sniffing for explosives, especially hidden in freight. Williams told defenceWeb that this area of business was expanding due to increasingly strict rules on cargo from the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has in the past bought dogs from Mechem. Many of these are used for anti-poaching and border patrol duties.

For the anti-poaching role, Mechem has trained dogs to track poachers and sniff out evidence (such as spent cartridges) as well as attack poachers and protect rangers. Williams said most Mechem dogs are not trained to be aggressive but these dual-purpose dogs have been trained to attack with a single command, if necessary.