London - It's no fun being a dog in South Korea.
For a start you run the risk of being eaten.
But if you manage to dodge that bullet it seems you could end up as part of a sinister cloning experiment and sent to Siberia to help boost Russia’s war machine.
Vladimir Putin has just taken delivery of a trio of genetically enhanced pups created to sniff out explosives and work alongside secret service agents in one of the most inhospitable parts of the planet.
The dogs were replicated from a star Belgian Malinois by a controversial Korean professor - who is also working to bring back to life the extinct woolly mammoth.
Dr Hwang Woo Suk said the genetic duplicates - named Tom, Mark and Jack - have inherited the parent dog’s muscular strength and smelling abilities.
Each worth £80,000 (about R1.4 million), they will work in Yakutia - the coldest inhabited region in the world. Temperatures there recently dropped to minus 30degC. It’s the same part of Siberia where Dr Hwang is collecting samples from woolly mammoths - preserved for thousands of years in the permafrost.
The dogs were officially handed over to the All-Russian Military-Historical Society at the Mammoth Museum. Museum director Semyon Grigoryev said: ‘These dogs have been recreated from the cells of the best sniffer dogs, inheriting their unique abilities. They will be the first cloned service dogs in Russia.’
Not that their hardy attributes have come to the fore yet. One official said: ‘The dogs have good appetites and are constantly playing. But they’re not yet used to the cold. We took them out for a walk but they ran straight back inside.’
Cloned dogs already serve in counter terrorism roles in the Korean, Chinese, and US security services. But critics have serious ethical and welfare concerns. The European Parliament has called for a ban on cloned animals.
The three new Russian recruits come from 500 cloned puppies from the Sooam Biotech laboratories in Seoul, the world’s first animal cloning centre.
‘These dogs are very young. In Korea they went though a basic training, so handlers here will decide what best to choose for them depending on their abilities and talents,’ said Dr Grigoryev.
The dogs’ first task will be language retraining.
So far, they understand orders in Korean but experts say they will soon pick up their new language.
Wealthy animal lovers are turning to cloning in the hope of continuing with the ‘same’ pet if one dies. However, according to the scientist who created Dolly the sheep, the technique will not bring the same beloved animal back.
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut warned those thinking of spending £60,000 on the process that the copy will not necessarily look or even act like the original animal, despite being the same genetically.
The RSPCA said it had serious concerns about cloning. ‘Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates,’ it said. ‘There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.’