Wed, Oct 29, 2008
PHNOM PENH – IN A land where there are still between four million and six million unexploded landmines, one of its greatest groups of heroes are its mine-sniffing dogs.
Cambodia’s 102 landmine-detection dogs were rigorously chosen and trained.
Now the dogs need replacing. However, the programme, which began in 1996, is desperately short of funds, reported Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA).
The director of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, Mr Khem Sophoan, said the mine-detecting dogs were ageing, while the landmine problem was far from solved.
‘Dogs are just like people: When they get old, they have to retire,’ he was quoted as saying.
‘We love our dogs, and they never fail us…but now we need new dogs to train and financial assistance to maintain them.’
Cambodia is one of the world’s most heavily-mined countries, after many years of bitter war. About 400 people are killed or maimed annually when they set off mines. Sweden set up the canine mine-detection programme using mostly German and Swedish shepherd crosses.
The programme was transferred to Cambodia in 2002. Training the dogs to sniff out explosives concealed underground or in rocky terrain littered with shrapnel is a tricky business.
Of every 100 canine candidates, “maybe only four or five make it”, Mr Sophoan told DPA.
He said the programme cost around US$1.2 million (S$1.8 million) a year. Even an untrained dog may cost US$4,000, whereas a fully-trained animal could be worth US$30,000.
Cambodia bred its first litter of 10 puppies earlier this year from a pair of demining Belgian Shepherds from Bosnia.
But an intestinal disease killed half the puppies. Veterinary supplies are also in short supply.