Chinese Police Enlist Drug-Sniffing Squirrels

The city of Chongqing is training a team of six red squirrels.

Forget the hounds. Police in China are releasing the squirrels. 

Law enforcement in the city of Chongqing reportedly announced that it is training a team of drug-sniffing squirrels to help locate illicit substances and contraband. 

Insider reports that the police dog brigade in the city, located in southwestern China, “now has a team of six red squirrels to help them sniff out drugs in the nooks and crannies of warehouses and storage units.”

According to Insider, “Chongqing police told the state-linked media outlet The Paper that these squirrels are small and agile, and able to search through tiny spaces in warehouses and storage units that dogs cannot reach,” and that the “squirrels have been trained to use their claws to scratch boxes in order to alert their handlers if they detect drugs, the police said.”

“Squirrels have a very good sense of smell. However, it’s less mature for us to train rodents for drug search in the past in terms of the technology,” said Yin Jin, a handler with the police dog brigade of the Hechuan Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, as quoted by the Chinese state-affiliated English newspaper Global Times.

“Our self-developed training system can be applied to the training of various animals,” Yin added.

The newspaper noted that in contrast to drug dogs, “squirrels are small and agile, which makes them good at searching high places for drugs.”

According to Insider, “China’s drug-sniffing squirrels may well be the first of their kind,” although “animals and insects other than dogs have also been used to detect dangerous substances like explosives.”

“In 2002, the Pentagon backed a project to use bees to detect bombs. Meanwhile, Cambodia has deployed trained rats to help bomb-disposal squads trawl minefields for buried explosives,” Insider reported. “It is unclear if the Chongqing police intends to expand its force of drug-sniffing squirrels. It is also unclear how often the squirrel squad will be deployed.”

China is known for its strict and punitive anti-drug laws. 

According to the publication Health and Human Rights Journal, “drug use [in China] is an administrative and not criminal offense; however, individuals detained by public security authorities are subject to coercive or compulsory ‘treatment.’”

The journal explains: “This approach has been subject to widespread condemnation, including repeated calls over the past decade by United Nations (UN) agencies, UN human rights experts, and human rights organizations for the country to close compulsory drug detention centers and increase voluntary, community-based alternatives. Nonetheless, between 2012 and 2018, the number of people in compulsory drug detention centers in China remained virtually unchanged, and the number enrolled in compulsory community-based treatment rose sharply.”

“In addition to these approaches, the government enters all people detained by public security authorities for drug use in China into a system called the Drug User Internet Dynamic Control and Early Warning System, or Dynamic Control System (DCS),” the journal continues. “This is a reporting and monitoring system launched by the Ministry of Public Security in 2006. Individuals are entered into the system regardless of whether they are dependent on drugs or subject to criminal or administrative detention; some individuals who may be stopped by public security but not formally detained may also be enrolled in the DCS”

The Dynamic Control System “acts as an extension of China’s drug control efforts by monitoring the movement of people in the system and alerting police when individuals, for example, use their identity documents when registering at a hotel, conducting business at a government office or bank, registering a mobile phone, applying for tertiary education, or traveling,” according to the journal.

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