15 December 2002

Russians breed superdog with a jackal's nose for bombs and drugs

By Ben Aris in Moscow

Part Siberian husky, part Turkmen jackal - a super sniffer dog with an enhanced sense of smell was unleashed last week by the Russian airline Aeroflot in its fight against terrorists and drug smugglers.

The animals are the product of a Russian scientific research project, launched 27 years ago, to produce the ultimate sniffer dog. Their breeders claim that they are much more effective than the labradors or alsatians that are more commonly used in the West.

A name for the new breed has yet to be chosen, although Huscal and Jacky have, apparently, been ruled out.

A new Aeroflot-run kennel in Moscow will raise the dogs and send them to airports where they will patrol and sniff passengers' bags.

"They can sniff out certain explosives that machines can't trace," says Klim Sulimov, Aeroflot's chief dog breeder.

The husky and Turkmen jackal were picked for the breeding project because of their extremely keen noses.

The former has evolved to sniff out the faintest odours in Arctic conditions when the deep cold suppresses smells, while the jackal has a nose more sensitive than its cousin, the domestic dog. Valery Okulov, Aeroflot's general director, says it can detect microscopic amounts of explosives.

The dogs are a quarter jackal. At first sight, they look much like a normal husky, although they are a bit smaller and have a jackal's thick black whiskers.

Siberian huskies are known for their obedience, while pure jackals make poor working dogs. They are too afraid of people and are hard to train and domesticate. They hail from the warmer climates of central Asia and suffer in the Russian winter.

The husky parentage makes the new breed not only perfect for cold-weather work but also easier to train than most other dogs.

Mr Sulimov said: "My dogs combine the qualities of Arctic reindeer herding dogs, which can work in temperatures as low as -70°C, and jackals, which enjoy the heat of up to 40°C. They're perfect for our country."

So far, 40 of the dogs have been bred. Thirty are working at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 international airport.

Inside one airliner, Mr Sulimov demonstrated the dog's skills. A briefcase full of guns and grenades was hidden on the plane. Mirka, the sniffer dog, was let loose, and went straight to the case, nudging it and whining. It was rewarded with an Aeroflot biscuit.

Security at Russian airports has been a growing concern. Heroin trafficking from Afghanistan and central Asia via Russia has risen rapidly since the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union opened its borders to the West.

Fears of terrorist attacks were heightened by the raid on a Moscow theatre when 50 armed Chechen rebels took more than 750 people hostage in October.

Aeroflot is also hoping to make some money out of the new breed. Lev Koshlyakov, the airline's deputy chief, said: "There is a great interest from other airlines for this new breed."

He claims that each of the dogs is worth about $5,000 (£3,170) and is confident that his jackal cross-breed is a dog that's about to have its day.

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