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Saluting excellence

Helping one another in a time of crisis is perhaps one of the world’s most widely understood languages.

In April, the South African Police Service’s K9 search and rescue team was honoured for their courageous work, following a deadly earthquake that rocked Türkiye and neighbouring Syria.

The world responded to the disaster by sending rescue teams to Türkiye and neighbouring Syria. The South African Police Services (SAPS) K9 team, together with the Gift of the Givers Foundation, also joined in on the rescue efforts.

Like other rescue teams, what was top of mind for the team, was finding survivors and recovering the bodies of deceased victims.

Brigadier Vimla Moodley who is the provincial Head for Police Emergency Services (PES) which is responsible for K9, Divers and Mounted Units in the Eastern Cape, was tasked by SAPS management to lead the well-prepared K9 team to Türkiye.

She recalled how the team was in good spirits and eager to depart and commence work to save lives.

The team was made up of herself, five dogs and their handlers. With the exception of Moodley, the handlers hail from Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West provinces.

The team was deployed to the city of Antakya, located in the province of Hatay.

“The earthquake and disaster was of such a magnitude that a whole city was destroyed. It was more like an apocalypse that hit the city.

“It was our first experience of such a nature and due to the calibre of handlers we have, it’s an experience they will never forget. However, they [handlers] are mentally strong and have appreciated life more now and also the fact that we don’t experience such disasters in our country,” she told SAnews, relating the February disaster.

The SAPS K9 search and rescue dogs are trained and used to search for missing persons and for recovering dead bodies. They also detect human scent and remains and are able to find victims of floods and collapsed buildings.

Asked about what training was put in place prior to their departure, Moodley explained that the K9 search and rescue handlers and dogs are trained for such purposes and assessed, moderated and certified annually.

“[The] only planning is the medical check-up by a veterinarian for the dogs and relevant medication should the need arise.”


Among the successes achieved by the team was the recovery of an 80-year-old woman who was found alive in a collapsed building.

The team’s efforts were rewarded with a medal of supreme sacrifice bestowed by Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan. The mother of three flew back to Türkiye to receive the medal on behalf of the SAPS in April.

“I was totally honoured [to] represent my country, especially the South African Police Service and personally being bestowed by the President of the country with a medal of supreme sacrifice. It was an incredible experience,” she gushes.

The team also received praise from National Police Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, who described the team as the epitome of pockets of excellence that exist in the organisation. He said the team had displayed commitment and dedication to the cause of serving.

Moodley joined the SAPS in April 1991. After joining the SAPS, Moodley applied to join the K9 unit in Durban. Having met the necessary criteria, Moodley became the first woman of colour to be placed at a K9 unit in the country the following year.

She was trained as a patrol and explosive K9 handler and served as an operational member until she was promoted in 2000 as the provincial coordinator for K9 and Mounted Units in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I further applied for a K9 unit commander post at East London K9 Unit and was successful and promoted to superintendent, [which is] now [known as] lieutenant colonel in 2005.

“In 2015, I was promoted to the Provincial Commander Police Emergency Services in the Eastern Cape which has a larger portfolio of K9 and mounted, diving and search and rescue, hostage negotiations, disaster management, 10111 call centres and Flying Squad.”

The woman who has a passion for working with animals, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in February 2023 after applying in October 2022. She has served the SAPS for a total of 32 years and is also the first Indian female Brigadier appointed in the Eastern Cape.

“Search and rescue is close to my heart… as their duties requires [one] to be mentally strong due to the horrific things they experience and see,” adding that the handlers are all doing well following the mission.

Following the team’s heroic work, a dinner in honour of the team and the Gift of the Givers was held at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Pretoria earlier this month.

Asked about the lessons learnt from the experience, Moodley said: “Appreciate life more and the simple things. Life is short and a disaster can take away everything in a second.” –

Source: South African Government News Agency