By Ana Nov
the cambodia daily
Twelve German shepherd dogs, trained to sniff out aging land mines, began work in Battambang province in early July.
And within two weeks, the new help was paying off. Troxi, a female, found the first mine, which was safely deactivated and removed by her human handlers.
“It’s increasing our confidence,’’ said Chhea Peng Horn, a coordinator for the Mine Detection Dog Project of the Cambodian Mine Action Center. “These dogs can smell TNT.’’
The dogs are expected to be an effective tool in Cambodia’s ongoing efforts to deactivate the millions of land mines left over from years of fighting.
The dogs, trained in Sweden by military handlers, have cleared more than 12,300 square meters of land since beginning work two months ago. The program is sponsored by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
German shepherds, with their extraordinary sense of smell, are often used to detect illegal drugs or as tracking animals. Experts say they are also well-suited to detect chemicals given off by decaying land mines.
“The longer the mine has been planted, the stronger it smells,’’ Chhea Peng Horn said.
The dogs are most effective in finding mines that are fairly shallow, he said. The twelve now working in Battambang have been trained to detect mines buried as deep as 20 centimeters.
Since the program began in 1997, at least 35 dogs have undergone training for the exacting work. So far 12 have passed all their tests; others have failed to make the grade and the rest are still being trained.
Earlier in the program, SIDA attempted to train native Cambodian dogs to do the work, but the experiment failed. Even when native dogs were crossbred with German shepherds, the puppies’ sense of smell was not sensitive enough for the delicate work of detecting mines, he said.
So seven Cambodians, including veterinarians and kennel workers, were sent to Sweden for three months in 1998 to learn how to work with Swedish-trained German shepherds.
“We have to speak Swedish with them,’’ Chhea Peng Horn said.
Training the dogs can take up to three years, and the trained dogs are worth an estimated $30,000. That prompted a dog handler to abscond with one of the dogs in December of 1999.
The dog-napper hired a cab to take him and the dog from Kompong Chhnang to Phnom Penh. When police asked for help in solving the case, the cab driver came forward and the dog was recovered from a Phnom Penh pet shop.
A second group of six dogs is undergoing training and is expected to begin work in October. By then, CMAC will recruit 16 additional handlers.
The agency will also staff three additional dog teams which are expected to begin operations in stages between June 2001 and mid- 2002.