Escalating global concerns regarding aviation safety and border security are contributing to a rapid growth in demand for South African trained sniffer dogs.
This is according to Mechem, a company in the Denel Land Systems (DLS) group widely accepted as a trusted breeder and trainer of canine detectives. The company says its four-legged sleuths have gained a well-earned reputation for sniffing out explosives, drugs, smuggled wildlife products and other contraband.
According to Mechem General Manager Ashley Williams there is a global shortage of quality working dogs.
“Regional tensions and recent incidents of terrorism on passenger airlines have led to a comprehensive rethink about security measures at points of entry such as airports and border posts.
“Many countries are now rediscovering the capacity of sniffer dogs to screen cargo at loading bays at busy airports and to perform spot checks on vehicles moving across international borders. When you combine the natural abilities of well-trained dogs with advances in modern scanning technology you are able to provide a comprehensive security solution,” Mechem said.
Williams says the Mechem dogs and handlers are in great demand in many conflict regions. Through the years trained teams have proven their value in landmine detection operations in countries such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As an example he quotes the Mechem dogs that uncovered a major drug smuggling operation in Benin. Efforts to hide heroin in aircraft parts and boxes of bolts and screws did not prevent the dogs from successfully sniffing out the contraband in a contracted operation authorised by the west African country’s government. Cross border tensions in the west African region have brought other countries there to Mechem for training of dogs and handlers to be deployed at strategic border posts.
The key to success is training dogs and handlers as a team, according to Dr Hannes Slabbert, Senior Manager: Canine Business at Mechem.
Clients can either utilise Mechem teams or send handlers to South Africa for training.
It takes up to 12 weeks to train a novice handler and a further three months to become a fully-certified trainer. Detection teams trained by Denel are used by governments, nature conservation agencies, police services and the private sector.
Slabbert said the system which combines modern technology with the canines’ capabilities to search for and uncover a wide range of substances gives Mechem and Mechem trained teams the edge. The Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System (MEDDS) involves collecting air samples from suspect containers or vehicles and taking them to the dogs in a controlled environment. When the dogs confirm the suspicions investigators take further steps to physically inspect a consignment.
“Drug smugglers and terrorists are using increasingly sophisticated methods to hide illicit substances. Our training of dogs and handlers are constantly updated to keep one step ahead of them,” Williams said.
Mechem has accumulated almost 35 years of experience in the training and operational deployment of working dogs. Some of the canines are bred at Mechem’s kennels in Lyttelton and then taken through the socialisation and training processes.