Press Release

AWF and Peace Parks Foundation Deliver Cross-Border Win Against Wildlife Crime in Mozambique

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On February 23, 2023, Vietnamese national Tran Trang was sentenced by the Maputo City Law Court to 16 years imprisonment for trafficking a staggering amount of wildlife products: 5 rhino horns, 127 lion claws, and 36 lion teeth.

This successful exercise has been made possible through the international collaboration between Peace Parks Foundation and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), who came together to establish the K9 detection unit in partnership with Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC).

The partnership was necessitated by the dire state of wildlife trafficking across landscapes and borders and the demand for environmental protection to change the nature of the criminal game at Mozambique’s international airport.

Maputo International Airport, a former hotspot for routing illegal wildlife products to the worldwide market, appears to now be losing its infamous status. It has gone from being the second-most important airport acting as a conduit for illegal products to an officially ‘insignificant’ one. This shift coincided with the deployment of wildlife detection dogs.

These breakthroughs are never by chance — they point to monumental efforts to combat these crimes. Powerful teamwork and intense preparation made the seizure on November 9, 2020 possible when Sasa, one of the detection dogs stationed at Maputo Airport, sniffed out the illegal cargo.

On that November day, two years after the unit’s inception, Sasa was the sniffer dog on duty. As she helped conduct a random search of all passengers boarding flights, she zeroed in on Trang’s sizable stash. It was a ‘spot bust,’ the chances of which would be dramatically reduced without a highly trained canine nose to pick up the scent. The Vietnamese national, with clear intent to traffic the goods, was arrested and her phone confiscated. Her phone revealed records that, over the following weeks, provided valuable leads. Further investigations led to the arrests of other suspects in Mozambique, deepening the impact of Sasa’s success.

AWF Counter Wildlife Trafficking Director Didi Wamukoya stated, “AWF is working to ensure that law enforcers in Africa are able to detect and interdict wildlife contraband and arrest wildlife offenders. Without proper detection and tracking methods, criminals kill and freely transport wildlife and wildlife products within and outside Africa, resulting in negative impacts on species, habitats, ecosystem services, and economies."

She continued, "AWF has worked with African governments and wildlife authorities since 2014 to enhance detection of wildlife contraband in key trafficking countries across Africa using well-trained and equipped dog teams. Because wildlife trafficking is linked to organized crime, serious corruption, violence, and instability in parts of Africa, AWF’s interventions not only contribute to saving species, but also to improving the socioeconomic well-being of the countries in which we work.”

With its coastline and geographical location, Mozambique is a hotspot for wildlife trafficking — a severe threat to the country's wildlife population. Conservation sniffer dogs are a proven tactic to improve the detection of illicit wildlife products and deter the ruthless and bloody wildlife trade. In partnership with ANAC and the Peace Parks Foundation, AWF’s Canines for Conservation program has stationed wildlife detection dogs and handlers in Maputo with plans to expand into the country. The dog team deploys at strategic transit sites and major trafficking hubs throughout Mozambique to curb trafficking and thereby limit the poaching of rhinos, elephants, and other iconic species.