Go to main content

Mine detection dog handler, a real passion

Explosive weapons
Senegal

‘This is not something you can do if you aren’t passionate about it’. This was the first thing Jonathan Matambo said to me, the mine detection dog handler who joined Handicap International’s demining team in Casamance, Senegal, last September. The 33-year old divides his time between his family, who live in Harare, Zimbabwe, and his two explosive detection dogs, Katja and Rex.

Mine detection dog handler, Jonathan Matambo. | © J-J. Bernard / Handicap International

Jonathan brings Katja, an 11-year-old female Belgian Shepherd, before the training area. His gestures are very precise. Pausing in front of the barrier tape, a movement of his arms tells the dog to get ready... Then Jonathan gives the command to begin. Katja carefully sniffs the rectangular patch of land of around 20 square metres. She is one of the two explosive detection dogs in the Handicap International demining team in Casamance.

Jonathan never takes his eyes off her: ‘It is really important that Katja checks the test area each morning before going to the area to be cleared of mines,’ he explains. This way I can check her physical condition, concentration and whether there are any external factors interfering, like wind or noise in the distance…’

Explosive detection dogs are used because of their ability to identify explosive devices in soil that is also polluted by other pieces of metal, to locate types of mines that are not found by metal detectors and their ability to cover large areas quickly. They prepare that area before manual clearance takes place.

Jonathan was 20 years old when he started working as a mine clearer: ‘I was looking for challenging humanitarian work, where you work hard and help others.’ In 2007, after clearing mines for four years by hand, he received training in how to become a mine detection dog handler. ‘I like dogs. We have always had them in my family. Recently, I bought a puppy for my three children. They are all thrilled. This gave me the opportunity to combine two things I love: clearing mines and being with dogs. Katja and Rex are like a second family for me when I am away from my own family.’

‘My relationship with the dogs is somewhat close, but it has to remain professional,’ he adds. ‘They are not pets. That’s why I don’t let them get used to entering the house. If the relationship were to become too casual, I would risk losing my authority. Discipline when working would suffer, as would their concentration and our cooperation.’

Jonathan joined the Handicap International demining team in Senegal, which has helped clear mines from the areas around several villages in Casamance, totalling 55,000 square metres, improving the lives of 60,000 villagers. Before this mission, he had already worked for the association in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013.

Where your support helps

Read more

Tune in to see HI's demining work in Laos featured on BBC1
© Philippa Poussereau/HI

Tune in to see HI's demining work in Laos featured on BBC1

The BBC recently visited Humanity & Inclusion’s team in Laos to film our incredible deminers! Tune in to watch Earth’s Natural Wonders on BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesday 7th March.

Humanity & Inclusion condemns the unending bombardment of besieged Eastern Ghouta

Humanity & Inclusion condemns the unending bombardment of besieged Eastern Ghouta

The extreme escalation of bombardment in the besieged area of Eastern Ghouta in the past 48 hours has caused more than 200 civilian deaths and extensive damage to infrastructure – particularly hospitals, clinics and shelters where civilians are taking refuge. 390,000 civilians are besieged under heavy shelling, airstrikes and barrel bomb attacks in the enclave of Eastern Ghouta, with dwindling water, food and medical supplies.

Explosive remnants of war: children with disabilities need access to risk education
© HI

Explosive remnants of war: children with disabilities need access to risk education

In Gaza, HI is working to ensure that all children, including disabled children can access risk education to prevent accidents.