Squirrels as Drug Sniffers? In China, They've Trained 6 Already!

Squirrels as Drug Sniffers? In China, They've Trained 6 Already!

YouTube/People's Daily

Move over, drug-sniffing dogs, you've got some competition. Traditionally, the job of sniffing out illegal narcotics has fallen to dogs, largely due to the 300 million olfactory receptors located in their adorable noses. But police in China have recruited their first-ever team of drug-sniffing squirrels made up of six Eurasian reds. They were "successfully trained" for the task by the Public Security Bureau of the Hechuan District in Chongqing, southwestern China.

Detection Animals

As it turns out, squirrels are every bit as effective as canines at detecting controlled substances, but it's their diminutive size that makes them so practical — and valuable — for the work. Being small enables them to search spots that dogs aren't able to reach, like tight overhead spaces and other areas that aren't easily accessed by any person, thing, or animal bigger than a squirrel or a rat — which have also been hailed for their sniffing prowess when it comes to landmine detection.

Just like canines, the squirrels were trained to alert their handlers when a smell registered with them. In this case, they were taught to scratch when narcotics were detected. A video posted by Chinese media outlet People's Daily allows viewers to see the squirrels in action darting about between objects while they sniff their way through a laboratory exercise.

Drug-Sniffing Squirrels

A law enforcement canine handler by the name of Yin Jin related to the Chongqing Morning Post that it had taken them years to get the squirrels to the level of ability that they're at now while noting that they've done an "excellent job" at detecting drugs so far.

"The sense of smell of squirrels is quite sensitive," he told state media. "It's just that our technology in training rodents was not mature enough before."

Animal-Training Programs

The squirrels' training is part of a national research project to bring in a new unit of anti-drug animals that includes rodents. Despite the progress, Jin told The Washington Post that "it's probably going to take some time" and "real-world drills before putting the squirrels on active duty."

It's all part of a 2018 Chinese initiative to crack down on domestic drugs that includes identifying and training new animals to detect illegal narcotics. Jin, who's been involved in the program since it was implemented, told local Hechuan Daily, "Research like this requires innovativeness as well as the patience for a flower to bloom."

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Rebecca West

Rebecca is a writer and editor for both print and digital with a love for travel, history, archaeology, trivia, and architecture. Much of her writing has focused on human and animal health and welfare. A life-long pet owner, she has taken part in fostering dogs for military members during deployment and given many rescued and surrendered dogs the forever home they always wanted. Her two favorite canine quotes are, "Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are," and "My dog rescued me."

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