Program to teach dogs to sniff out unexploded mines and ordnance needs
more recruits, CMAC officials say, but puppies and training are not
CMAC mine detection dogs parade through the streets during Independence Day celebrations last week.
BREEDING and training a new generation of specialised mine-detecting dogs is costing the Kingdom around US$1 million annually, new figures reveal.
"We spend from $860,000 to $1 million per year on mine-clearing dogs," Khem Sophoan, director general of the Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC), told the Post Sunday, adding that the money comes from both the Cambodian government and various donors.
According to Khem Sophoan, CMAC's total expenditure reaches somewhere between $9 million and $11 million a year.
He said a sizable chunk of this funding goes to CMAC's Mine Detection Dog program, founded in 1996, which trains dogs to sniff out mines and buried explosives.
Most of the 87 mine-detecting dogs that have been through the program are purchased ready-trained from a centre in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
One dog costs around $4,000 and once, it reaches Cambodia, training continues. However, CMAC is trying to reduce its reliance on imported dogs.
According to Khem Sophoan, the MDD program needs 10 imported mine-clearing dogs every year to replace the old ones. Now the MDD is making an effort not only to train dogs at the centre but breed them.
Ten puppies were born at the centre eight months ago. However, only three of this historic first litter of puppies survived infancy.
Mong Sokunthearath, director of the Kampong Chhnang CMAC center, home of the MDD program, said that there are two kinds of dogs:
Those that specialise in mine-clearing and those that unearth unexploded ordnance. The dogs start their training when they are two years old.
"They take from six to eight months to be trained," he said. "They are first trained to [obey] humans and then to sniff out explosives, such as TNT."
Experts estimate that up to six million unexploded land mines remain in Cambodia.
"They [land mines] were placed in almost every province throughout Cambodia," Khem Sophoan said. "As part of the government's strategy, we plan to clear all mines in Cambodia by 2020."