Trained Dog Sniffs Out Massive Cache of Illegal Rhino Horns and Lion Parts

It was hidden among chocolate, cookies, and clothes in suitcases.

Detection dog and rhino horns seized at an airport in Mozambique.
Detection dog and illegal rhino horns seized at an airport in Mozambique.


With the help of a trained detection dog, officials arrested a woman at the Mozambique airport this week who was attempting to smuggle a massive cache of illegal wildlife products out of the country.

The woman was detained with 127 lion claws, 36 lion teeth, and five rhino horns weighing nearly 10 pounds (4.3 kilograms) in two suitcases. The items were hidden among chocolates, cookies, and clothes with the “clear aim of confusing the tracking dog and deceiving the authorities," Philip Muruthi, Vice President, Species and Conservation, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) tells Treehugger.

“This find is important because it shows that traffickers are still active in and through Mozambique,” Muruthi says. “It means we must not relent in our efforts to counter wildlife trafficking. The dog teams must be present and alert 24/7. It is also important because it confirms lion-born trade is happening in Africa. And African rhinos are not out of the woods.”

Mozambique authorities believe that the poaching in connection with this smuggling attempt took place in the provinces of Gaza and Maputo, along the border of South Africa where more than two dozen people were arrested and sentenced in 2020. In Mozambique, possession, transporting, and smuggling prohibited wildlife products can lead to a prison sentence of 16 years.

Founded in 1961, AWF advocates for the protection of wildlife and wildlands throughout Africa. The organization is fighting against the illegal wildlife trade from Africa to Vietnam, China, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

In the last financial year, there were a total of 48 illegal trafficking finds spread across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, according to AWF.

“The pivotal pillar to our achievement has been our instrumental relationships with African governments who are keen on curbing the wildlife trade, therefore according immeasurable support to the program,” Muruthis says.

“These high-level engagements have enabled the program to achieve its success through the development of resilient canine units across the continent. Through our teams we have been able to see weekly substantial busts and closing of trafficking routes therefore applying pressure on syndicates and perpetrators.”

Witchcraft Dogs

There were 36 lion teeth and 127 lion claws found in two suitcases in the recent seizure.
There were 36 lion teeth and 127 lion claws found in two suitcases in the recent seizure.


In the past decade, authorities have seized nearly 500,000 pounds of African ivory and more than 4,500 African rhino horns, AWF reports.

To help African law enforcement detect and seize these smuggled wildlife products, AWF launched its Canines for Conservation Program in 2014. The program trains two types of canines: tracker dogs to find and catch poachers and detection dogs to uncover illegal wildlife products at airports, seaports, and border crossings.

The tracker dogs are on routine patrols in various areas across East Africa, most recently in Serengeti.

“They have been so effective in apprehending poachers by following the scent of an offender to his home,” Muruthi says. “This has led many in the communities around areas like Serengeti to the speculation that the dogs have witchcraft and thus they shun from engaging in poaching for fear of being busted by the 'strange' dogs.”

Although the dogs are helping with smuggling prevention and crackdowns, the arrest this week shows that demand for illegal wildlife products continues, the AWF points out.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Wildlife Crime Report 2020, the annual illicit income generated from ivory and rhino horn trafficking between 2016 and 2018 was estimated to be $400 million for ivory and $230 million for rhino horn trafficking.

“In order for the illegal wildlife trade to be fought successfully it is imperative that law enforcement agencies engage in concerted efforts because the crime keeps on evolving,” Muruthi says. “There is still a lot more work to be done even after the ivory trade was banned years ago.”