Team Rokka works its animal magic
Dogs trained by Finnish NGO Team Rokka are playing an important role in fighting poaching and illegal trafficking in endangered species.
Trafficking in wildlife is the fourth biggest global criminal activity, after drugs, weapons and people. The rate at which elephants in Africa are being slaughtered for their tusks, for example, means that the species will become extinct by 2025.
Preventing this traffic requires concerted and innovative efforts, and the role played by Team Rokka’s trained detection dogs is an effective addition to the anti-trafficking arsenal.
Team Rokka was set up by former Finnish policeman Toni Lahtinen in 2012 in a bid to apply his own professional dog-handling skills to anti-poaching activities in eastern Africa.
“Since I was a kid my biggest passion has been helping animals in every way I can,” explains Lahtinen. “Even when I was in the police I asked to use more time for animal welfare inspections and cruelty investigations, as well as networking between other animal welfare authorities and NGOs.”
After leaving the police in 2010, he worked as a volunteer at animal rescue shelters in Romania and Thailand and as a kennel manager for the RSPCA ACT shelter in Australia.
“Tanzania is the priority now and it will take time to get things going there. But as soon as possible, and when we have raised the needed funds, we would like to expand our work in other African countries on other continents wherever our expertise might be needed to save wildlife.”
The current pilot project, in cooperation with the PAMS Foundation in Tanzania, is all about detection dogs, says Lahtinen. “Our dogs are trained to detect concealed ivory and firearms and they can be used to assist local law enforcement authorities in their operations against poachers and ivory trafficking syndicates. Assisting means searching for and detecting the stashes that would be missed otherwise.”
The huge demand for ivory in Asian markets needs to be tackled, and people need to be made aware that they do not actually need ivory for anything, Lahtinen stresses. “Also, all possible action needs to be taken to tackle corruption holding back effective, wildlife related law enforcement work.”
Text: Tim Bird