By Zurah Nakabugo
The latest non-conventional bomb materials used by terrorists are best-detected by sniffer dogs, the commandant of the police's Canine unit has said.
Speaking about the country's readiness to fight terrorism, Martin Mugume told The Observer that sniffer dogs were key to the fight against terror, though Uganda has only a few.
"Terrorists now have sophisticated bomb materials that might not be detected by the usual x-ray scanners and metal detectors. Some bombs are now disguised as liquids, powder, papers, wood, lotions, toothpaste or medicines and other simple weapons which can't be easily detected by metal detectors but can only be sensed by sniffer dogs," Mugume said in the wake of the latest terror attacks that claimed scores of people in Kenya.
"We have less than 200 canines distributed to only 50 police stations in the country. Our target is to cover all districts by 2017 and have at least three dogs at every police station," he said.
Mugume says that without enough dogs, Uganda's best weapon against terrorism remains being vigilant and alert to any suspicious people and objects. The police's canine section, neglected for years, got a boost in 2010 at the urging of Gen Kale Kayihura.
"There was more demand for dogs, since they are the best weapons against terrorism worldwide in tracking suspects and explosives," Mugume said.
The challenge, now, remains getting more dogs to rural areas to help in investigations.
"Worse still the more we delay to reach at the scene, it gets contaminated by human tampering, rain and other factors, making the dog's work unsuccessful," Mugume said.
The police says it is breeding and training eight types of dogs at a new facility in Naggalama, Mukono district.
"Police has also empowered its staff by training them in Israel, [at\ the leading dog training academy in the world," Mugume said.
The cost of an imported trained dog ranges between $8,000 (Shs 20m) and US$15,000 (Shs 38m), which, Mugume says, was too expensive, hence the Naggalama breeding alternative. Some 8,000 cases of explosives, narcotics and ivory are tracked by dogs within the country every year.
The English Springer Spaniels dogs, which the police says it is breeding, are said to be among the best in detecting the latest explosives and packed narcotics worldwide. Bloodhounds (Scent hounds) are best at tracking criminals because they have a very high sense of smell.
Mugume says the police is also training dogs for Uganda Wildlife Authority to detect ivory at borders. This should boost the campaign to save Uganda's elephants, which are a key tourist attraction.