Sniffing out wildlife crime with Malawi’s first detection dog unit by Julia Gunther

Honourable Mention – Personal

For this series, Julia Gunther and writer Nick Schönfeld spent a week with the Wildlife Detection Dog Unit in Lilongwe, Malawi. “For seven days we accompanied dogs Max, Bubba, Nikita, Danna and Tim and their handlers as they patrolled cargo halls, searched airport terminals and inspected minibuses at roadblocks,” says Gunther.

“The WDDU are on the frontline of Malawi’s war on wildlife crime. Their work not only deters poaching, they also fight against the illegal wildlife trade, which is suspected of having led to repeated outbreaks of highly contagious and deadly viruses; for example, MERS, SARS, swine flu, and now Covid-19.

“The current virus outbreak illustrates just how important units like the WDDU are,” she says. “But it also highlights the fragility of the measures they have put in place. Like everywhere, Covid-19 has led to the shutdown of the tourism industry. Fewer tourists means fewer ranger patrols in national parks, as well as more poverty and unemployment, which is causing a rise in poaching and wildlife trafficking.”

Photographer: Julia Gunther
Writer: Nick Schönfeld