In a yard filled with abandoned plane parts next to Moscow’s main Sheremetyevo Airport, handlers are putting a pack of energetic sniffer dogs through their paces.
The small, fox-like canines are Shalaikas, a cross between Arctic Nenets herding dogs known as Laikas and Southern Turkmen golden jackals. Russia hopes it will soon be able to use them to detect Covid-19 in humans.
“This is in many ways the perfect scent dog,” Yelena Batayeva, head of Aeroflot’s dog training service, told The Moscow Times, holding a pup called Kapriz.
“They have a highly unusual mix of Arctic and Southern blood. This gives them the unique skill of being able to pick up smells prevalent in both heavy warm air and light cold air particles that other dogs we have worked with couldn’t,” she explained.
Batayeva added that dogs have previously been used to detect other illnesses, including cancer, making them an “interesting solution” when it comes to detecting the coronavirus.
The breed was developed in the 1970s by renowned Soviet biologist Klim Sulimov to help combat the trafficking of opium from Afghanistan to the Soviet Union. By the late 90s Shalaikas were on the verge of dying out.
But in 2001, Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot decided to