Sierra and Sahara – Thailand’s search-and-rescue superstars

Two golden retrievers from Thailand do their duty in Turkey

Two golden retrievers from Thailand’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team are starring in the international efforts following the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude quake and aftershocks that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6 rose to more than 41,000 on Wednesday, with millions more lost or homeless in both countries.

Two golden retrievers become social media celebrities

Two Thai sniffer dogs – Sierra and Sahara – became social media celebrities after beginning their mission on Saturday in Hatay, a coastal Turkish province that borders Syria.

earthquake survivors in Turkey | Turkey-Syria Two golden retrievers from Thailand
The International Search and Rescue Dog Organisation is a non-profit or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on in the training of search and rescue dogs.

Sierra and Sahara come from the National Rescue Dog Organisation. Foundation director Alongkot Choukaew said the seven year old Sierra and six year old Sahara were certified by the International Rescue Dog Organisation.

The National Rescue Dog Organisation was founded a year after the tsunami hit Phuket in December 2004 and began working with USAR three years ago. Sierra and Sahara have joined 40 human members of Thailand’s USAR team in Turkey

Two golden retrievers from a new generation

The team started with sniffer dogs trained by foreign handlers decades ago. Those first-gen dogs have now died of old age. Sierra and Sahara arrived from Sweden six years ago as part of Thailand’s second generation of sniffer dogs.

Alongkot said…

“We have trained these dogs since they were puppies in line with IRO standards. They have worked as sniffer dogs for three years now.”

Temperatures dropped below freezing in parts of the disaster zone, but Alongkot said people shouldn’t worry as Sierra and Sahara were quite used to freezing temperatures as pups in Sweden.

Can Golden Retrievers Tolerate Cold Weather? Two golden retrievers from Thailand
Sierra and Sahara were quite used to freezing temperatures as pups in Sweden.

Alongkot said Thailand’s USAR team currently has six sniffer dogs, four are on standby back home. Nine handlers are taking turns accompanying the dogs in Turkey.

Alongkot said…

“International rules limit the time human rescuers can spend on search and rescue missions to 10 consecutive days.”

Two golden retrievers step out in style

Safety shoes have been designed for dogs to wear in disaster zones, designed to protect the dogs from sharp objects as they search the rubble. They are worn only on their front paws, to protect them as they land after jumping. The dangers were underlined when a search dog from Mexico died after rubble collapsed on top of him in Turkey.

Police dogs wear special boots to protect their paws during parade Two golden retrievers from Thailand
The two golden retrievers from Thailand wear special boots to protect their paws during searches.

Alongkot said the Thai USAR team will only deploy their sniffer dogs once they are confident the situation is safe.

There is only a slim chance of finding survivors 72 hours after an earthquake, but the Thail team still has hope. Survivors were found in Syria after five days had passed. Sierra and Sahara hare trained to keep still and listen for sounds from the rubble.


“This obedience is a characteristic of golden retrievers.”

Should a dog's sniff Two golden retrievers from Thailand

Sierra and Sahara – Thailand’s search-and-rescue superstars | News by Thaiger

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.