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10 Jan, 2012 06:03

Sense for scents: Airport security in good paws

Terror attacks around the globe are being prevented every month thanks to furry security experts with sharp senses for detecting explosives and weapons. Man’s four-legged friends can be found on the front line in the fight against terror.

These dogs are a special breed: part husky, part jackal.And it is their acute sense of smell which makes them perfect for sniffing out explosives in airports.“It turned out that of all canines, it is the jackal that has the best sense of smell. So, it was logical to use that to improve the sense of smell in dogs. Basically, I grafted a wild beast's sense of smell on to a domesticated animal,” says biologist and breeder Klim Sulimov. Their husky heritage means that they can handle temperatures as low as -70 centigrade, whilst the jackal side of the family provides them with equally impressive abilities in the heat.“Jackals are subtropical animals that are used to high temperatures. As an experiment, we took these hybrids to the United Arab Emirates, where they were able to work in 42 degrees. They could walk on sand which was heated by the sun to 60 degrees. Ordinary dogs wouldn’t be able to handle that,” Sulimov explains.The Sulimov dogs have 220 million smell receptors – 44 times more than a human.This allows them to detect even trace amounts of explosive material, making them invaluable for airports looking to put passengers at ease.“Working with these dogs among passengers makes people feel more secure in the airport. This way, passengers see that Aeroflot gives special attention to security. As for accuracy, they have even detected gunpowder residue on the clothes of hunters returning home,” Azat Zaripov, deputy director of the aviation security at Aeroflot Russian Airlines, says. With the animals having to work in an environment filled with distracting sights, sounds and smells, it is important that the dogs and their handlers have a close relationship.“There has to be trust between the two. The dog should feel absolutely free, and shouldn't be pressured by excessive discipline. The handlers have to be extremely attentive. They should notice and immediately respond to the dog’s every motion and reaction,” Elena Bataeva, head of Aeroflot’s aviation security department, says.A false alarm is detected in less than 0.5 per cent of searches, making the dogs far more reliable than the best man-made detection device.Much of that is down to the breeding, but a lot of training is required before they are ready to work amongst the public.When you see these hybrid dogs in action, it is clear why they are so well-suited to working in the airport. Some passengers do not even notice they are part of a thorough investigation. On an average day over 100,000 people pass through this terminal at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow’s busiest. Plenty of distractions make it the perfect place to conduct a test.One bag, used purely as an experiment, contains around 3 grams of plastic explosive. RT’s Peter Oliver was going to go and hide it somewhere in the terminal, while eager Fraga tried to track him down.Fraga sets about sniffing Peter out. Her finely-tuned nose searching every nook and cranny in which a potentially dangerous package could be hidden.Sure enough she finds Peter trying to check in for a flight.No matter how hard you try to hide, if you have explosives these amazing animals will find you.