Meet Max, Tim, Bubba, Nikita and Dana. 

These five extraordinary canines make up the Wildlife Detection Dog Unit (WDDU) – a partnership between the Malawi Police Service and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, supported by Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and currently funded by the United States Government, GIZ and the Lion Recovery Fund.

Established in 2018, the WDDU supports the prosecution of wildlife criminals and plays a crucial role in the Government of Malawi’s wider efforts to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade. It does this by deterring and disrupting illegal wildlife trade activity, specifically around the transportation of contraband within, and in and out of Malawi. It also carries out intelligence-led operations to unearth hidden illegal wildlife products.

The WDDU was introduced following evidence of Malawi’s key role in the global trade of illegal wildlife products that is threatening some of Africa’s most iconic species with extinction. Some of the world’s biggest ivory seizures have been linked back to Malawi, which is positioned centrally in a regional poaching hotspot. The WDDU is just one of a number of initiatives the Government of Malawi has introduced to clamp down on wildlife crime in recent years.

The dogs are trained to use their keen sense of smell to search for, detect and indicate the presence of wildlife contraband as well as firearms and ammunition. The majority of WDDU deployments take place at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, but the unit also conducts passenger and cargo searches at Chileka International Airport, roadblocks and locations in and around Malawi’s National Parks.

So far WDDU has been instrumental in a number of seizures of illegal wildlife products. In May 2019, for example, the unit was involved in raids which led to the arrest of twelve members of an international trafficking syndicate, and the recovery of multiple specimens of rhino horn, pangolin scales, worked elephant ivory, raw hippo ivory, and protected reptile species as well as a number of unlicensed firearms and explosives.

Meet the unit


AGE: 4

BREED: German Shepherd

HANDLERS: Hardwell & Agnes

ABOUT: Max loves water so will take any chance he gets to lie down in a puddle! Needless to say, rainy season is his favourite time of year.


AGE: 4

BREED: Belgian Malinois

HANDLERS: Peter & Martha

ABOUT: The cleanest dog in the unit, Tim likes to keep his kennel tidy! He is affectionate with WDDU staff and other dogs and loves playing with his kennel mate, Nikita.


AGE: 5

BREED: Belgian Malinois

HANDLERS: Iain & Gabriel

ABOUT: Bubba loves her food but she puts those extra calories to use as she is the strongest dog in the unit and loves to work.


AGE: 4

BREED: Belgian Malinois

HANDLERS: Benjamin & Bonface

ABOUT: Nikita is old before her years and our calmest dog, so is often used as the ‘demo dog’ when our handlers need to practise their skills.


AGE: 18 months

BREED: Belgian Malinois

HANDLERS: Ernest & Kinord

ABOUT: The newest member of the unit, Dana joined the team in August 2019. Dana is very people orientated and loves working hard to please her handlers.