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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Jackal blood makes 'perfect' sniffer dogs
A dog and jackal hybrid (D. Likhachev Scientific Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Protection)
The dogs are a quarter jackal and three-quarters husky
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By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter
Jackals crossed with huskies are being used in Russia as sniffer dogs.

The hybrids have been bred to combine the keen nose of the howling scavenger with the temperament of man's best friend.

Scientists say the dogs, which are a quarter jackal, can recognise a person's individual scent.

They are being used at airports to detect explosives and drugs, and to catch criminals.

The jackal
Found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia
Known for their cleverness, nocturnal habits, eerie howling and scavenging
They hunt antelopes, gazelles and sheep but also eat reptiles
The dogs are the result of a programme by Russian scientists to breed the ultimate sniffer dogs.

They say jackals have a better sense of smell than their domestic cousins.

After years of cosseting, pet dogs have lost many of the skills they would need to survive in the wild.

Pure jackals would be bad sniffer dogs because they have little trust in humans and are not obedient.

More at home roaming the plains of Africa, they would not be able to tolerate the cold Russian winters.

Now, scientists at Russia's DS Likhachev Scientific Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Protection think they have the perfect combination.

After a breeding programme started in 1975, they have produced hybrids that are a quarter jackal and three-quarters husky.

"Northern dogs have [a] better sense of smell than all other dog breeds as huskies are used under severe conditions of arctic cold," said research leader Klim Sulimov.

"Substances become non-volatile under low temperatures; that is why a keener sense of smell becomes more important."

New blood

Twenty five of the dogs are now being used at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, to inspect planes, search for explosives and drugs, and to catch thieves. Ten more work at the forensic criminology examination department nearby.

Their handlers say the jackal hybrids are adept at crawling into the tightest spots when aircraft are inspected before take-off.

Husky dogs (BBC)
Huskies were chosen because of their keen smell in the snow
They also have a novel way of signalling when they are tired. Their coiled-up tails - which they owe to their husky descent - go into freefall.

However, using such dogs outside Russia might prove difficult. According to wildlife veterinary expert Professor John Cooper, the Wild Animals Act in the UK, for example, would cause problems.

"The moment you start crossing a jackal or a wolf or anything with a domestic dog in this country you have all kinds of legal implications about whether it's a domestic or a wild animal," he said.

But he said the concept of introducing jackal blood to domestic dogs was a good one, as it could introduce a new spectrum of smell.

"Jackals may well be able to smell some items better than others," he told BBC News Online. "So as sniffer dogs, they might serve better for that purpose."

Domestic dogs are probably jackals under the skin, anyway. Current wisdom is that domestic dogs are descended from wild wolves or jackals, or both.

See also:

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